One minute it was there. The next, it wasn’t. Initially, I thought it was hiding. But after checking the hide, and behind the plants, it was obvious it wasn’t. It must have jumped out of its tank, I thought. But, the cover was still firmly in place. And a quick scan of the floor showed no signs of escape. Then, I thought it got sucked up into the filter, so I opened it up. It was empty! No axolotl in there either. Where on earth has my axolotl gone?!
This is how a fellow axolotl owner described the shocking moment when he realized that one of his juveniles had vanished. But things were about to get a whole lot weirder…
The only logical explanation was that it had been eaten by a tank mate. Not by a fish, not by a turtle, but you’ve guessed it: by one of its own kind! And so the main suspects of the investigation came into focus: it was likely the other juveniles with which the victim was sharing its tank…
This got me wondering: “Are axolotls cannibalistic?
The answer might creep you out.
Axolotls are cannibalistic. In other words, axolotls eat other axolotls. However, cannibalism amongst axolotls tends to be limited to certain circumstances, and not all axolotls display this behavior. In short, not all axolotls are cannibals. And cannibal axolotls are not cannibalistic all of the time.
If you can get the guts up to carry on reading, I dive into more detail below.
Table of Contents
- Why Are Axolotls Cannibalistic?
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why Are Axolotls Cannibalistic?
First of all, axolotls are more cannibalistic as juveniles than they are as adults. There are several factors that can explain this.
Axolotls grow rapidly. And, to fuel this growth they need calories. Lots of them. As a result, young axolotls need to eat a lot.
As they mature from larvae into juveniles and their front legs begin to grow, their hunger levels increase. They need a lot of food to grow these new front limbs, rear limbs, and external gills. That’s a lot of flesh right there!
And, whilst this cannibalistic behavior doesn’t always result in entire individuals being eaten, it can translate into the loss of limbs and gills. You might notice juveniles with a missing foot or a half-nipped gill.
If you’re breeding axolotls, you need to ensure that you feed them enough and frequently. This also entails moving them off of baby food as soon as their front limbs begin to grow.
Their movement will make them more visible, create more vibrations in the water (make them more easily detectable), and also help trigger their predatorial behavior.
Axolotls are native to high-altitude lakes in Mexico City, Mexico. Their natural habitat is not very abundant in food.
Therefore, axolotls have to compete with each other for resources from day one. It really is a case of survival of the fittest. Consequently, a tactic they use is to eat or maim their competition.
This has two advantages:
- They can feed off of their siblings, i.e. their siblings are another food source.
- They eliminate direct competitors for the limited resources in their environment.
If you’re breeding axolotls you should consider separating them as soon as they start to evolve into juveniles (when their front limbs begin to grow) and keep them separated until they become young adults at the earliest (i.e. until their limbs and gills are fully grown).
Ideally, you should keep each individual juvenile in its own container, separated from its mates. You can achieve this by using any of the following methods:
- Tubbing (the easiest, cheapest method but requires frequent water changes)
- Tank divider (can be hard to find)
- Separate tanks (complicated and expensive, especially if you want a filter for each tank)
Once your axolotls are young adults, their hunger levels decrease. They don’t need as much fuel to grow, and their cannibalistic behavior will fade.
It’s well-documented that axolotls are pretty sensitive creatures.
The following factors contribute to stressing axolotls:
- Poor water quality.
- High temperatures.
- Bright lights.
- Presence of undesired tank mates.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Put 2 Axolotls Together?
Axolotls prefer solitude over the company of tank mates. However, it is possible to put two axolotls together. To achieve this successfully, you should wait until the axolotls are both young adults (i.e. their limbs and gills are fully grown), and ensure that the tank is big enough for both animals (at least 20 gallons for the first axolotl and an extra 10 gallons for each additional axolotl).
Are Baby Axolotls Cannibals?
Axolotls tend to be more cannibalistic when they are young. As larvae and juveniles, they are more likely to attack, bite and/or eat their siblings. This behavior can be explained by a large appetite, overcrowding, and stress. As axolotls mature into adults and their limbs and gills are fully grown, their hunger levels decrease and their cannibalistic behavior fades.
Why Do Axolotls Bite Each Other?
Axolotls bite each other for a number of reasons. When they are young they sometimes display cannibalistic behavior, which leads them to attack, bite and sometimes eat their siblings’ limbs or gills, and sometimes even entire individuals. Axolotls also sometimes mistake each other for food and can nip at their mates thinking they’re actually prey.
Can Axolotls Regrow Limbs?
Axolotls have the ability to regrow certain body parts such as limbs, gills, and eyes. etc. These regenerative abilities have long fascinated scientists, who have been studying axolotls to better understand what confers them with these regenerative skills, and whether or not we might be able to emulate them in humans. Finally, it has been suggested that the axolotl’s ability to regenerate was fuelled through evolution by its cannibalistic tendencies, as a means to perpetuate the species.