What is an Axolote?

Israel has a small hatchery to try to reintroduce the axolote into the canals of Xochimilco.

Ever heard of an axolote? Don’t feel bad – most people haven’t.

What is an Axolote?

The axolote can grow to be up to 90 cm long.

An axolote (ah-o-low-tee) is a reptile similar to an iguana. They live in an area right next to Mexico City called Xochimilco. Axolotes can breath three ways : with lungs like land animals, with gills like fish, or through their skin. They can grow to be up to 90 cm in length.

One of the most unique properties of the axolote is that of rejuvenation. If one loses a leg, its tail, or even part of its heart, the animal can regenerate and grow a new one. In fact, if the axolote is lacking food, it will eat its own leg – knowing it will simply grow a new one.

Uses of Axolote

The Xochimilcan people have traditionally used the axolote as a source of food. They simply take out the guts of the animal, cover it with spices and corn flakes, wrap it in a leaf, and cook it over a fire.

The axolote is better known, however, for its curative properties. The local people make a soup with it and drink it to cure anemia. They also make a syrup from the skin to help bronchitis or asthma.

Scientists are currently doing many studies to learn about other uses of the axolote. Due to its rejuvenation properties, scientists believe they may be able to use the reptile to fight cancer or other serious diseases.

The Fate of the Axolote

Unfortunately, the axolote is in danger of extinction. It is found only in the canals of a small area in Mexico and numbers are diminishing at an alarming rate.

There are many reasons for the endangerment of the axolote, including pollution in the canals where they live, but the main culprit is the foreign fish that have been introduced to the area. Carp and other fish eat the plants the axolote lays its eggs on – and eats the eggs at the same time. As the eggs get consumed, the number of eggs which hatch is greatly reduced.

There are now a few hatcheries in the Xochimilco area dedicated to reestablishing a healthy population of axolote in the canals. Only time will tell if they are successful.

Aztec Myth of the Axolote

The Aztec people believed the axolote was the god of water.

The story goes that every four years, in leap year, the Aztecs held a sacrificial ceremony to the gods. They sacrificed the four elements – air, fire, earth, and water – to encourage the gods to maintain balance for the next four years.

The god of water, the youngest of the four, was afraid of being sacrificed and hid underground to escape. While there, he converted to a century plant.

Over time, the god of water decided he didn’t like being a century plant, so he changed into a large pestle for grinding dry ingredients.

Still unsatisfied, he changed again to a small pestle for grinding spices.

And again, he was not satisfied. This time he changed into a turkey.

Finally he changed into an axolote and was satisfied. To this day, the god of water can be found in the form of an axolote.


In the hatchery, they are have many small axolotes.
Axolotes lay their eggs on plants. If fish eat the plants, the eggs are eaten too.
This axolote lost his leg – but he’ll grow another one quickly.
Axolotes live in canals in the Xochimilco area of Mexico, just outside of Mexico City.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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