Axolotls are a species of salamander native to the lakes and wetlands of the Mexican Central Valley. Salamanders in general, and axolotls in particular, are amphibians. Amphibians spend part of their lives in water and part on land. Because axolotls are amphibians, many people wonder whether axolotls can live on land.
Here’s what I found:
Axolotls cannot live on land. They spend their entire lives in water. However, axolotls can spend a short period of time out of water because they have lungs and can breathe air.
The reason why most amphibians can live on land as they get older but axolotls can’t, is due to how axolotls develop. To better understand amphibians in general and axolotls in particular, continue reading below.
Table of Contents
- Amphibians: Brief Overview
- Axolotls: An Exceptional Amphibian
- Frequently Asked Questions
Amphibians: Brief Overview
The word amphibian comes from the modern Latin word amphibium which itself comes from the Greek words amphi, meaning both; and bios, meaning life.
In other words, amphibious relates to the notion of having “two lives” or “two modes of existence”.
The official class of amphibians is Amphibia. Amphibians are small vertebrates that spend part of their lives in water, and part on land. These are the “two modes of existence” referred to above.
Amphibians are therefore both aquatic and terrestrial creatures.
Besides salamanders, other examples of amphibians include frogs, toads, and newts.
It is estimated that there are over 6000 different amphibian species in total, with over 90% of them being frogs.
Amphibians have certain characteristics that make them quite unique in the animal kingdom. Here are some of their main features.
Amphibians are vertebrates. This means that they have a backbone.
Amphibians are cold-blooded. This means that they match their internal temperature to the temperature of the environment (water or air) around them.
Being cold-blooded allows amphibians to save energy as they don’t have to burn calories to maintain a set body temperature. In turn, this makes their bodies quite efficient at using oxygen to release energy.
Amphibians have the unique ability to breathe in a number of different ways.
As larvae (think of tadpoles for example), amphibians tend to use their gills to breathe. Most amphibians go through metamorphosis between their larval and adult stage. During this transformation, they tend to develop lungs as well. Some amphibians will completely lose their gills, whilst others will retain them.
Their lungs enable them to breathe air when at the surface of the water, and indeed on land. This type of breathing is called pulmonary breathing.
Certain amphibians such as frogs can also breathe air through the mucus and capillary-lined surfaces at the back of their mouths and throats. They achieve this by swallowing air, closing their mouths, and compressing their throats. This form of breathing is known as buccal breathing.
Finally, amphibians can breathe through their skin when underwater. This is called cutaneous breathing. Their skin is very thin and porous; is irrigated by small blood vessels called capillaries and is often covered in a protective slime. The slime coat keeps them moist and protected from bacteria, fungi, and parasites all whilst allowing gases to be exchanged between their blood and the water. Oxygen from the water can diffuse into their bloodstream whilst carbon dioxide is diffused out of the bloodstream, into the water.
- Complex Life Cycle
Amphibians have complex life cycles involving larval, juvenile, and adult stages. The transformation from the larval stage to the adult stage is called metamorphosis.
During their larval stage, amphibians tend to have long tails and breathe through their gills. When they metamorphose into adults, they begin to grow limbs (generally 4) and lungs.
Amphibians can live both in water and on land – although not all species always live in both. Some species permanently live on land, while others have a completely aquatic mode of existence.
As a rule of thumb, amphibians will be born underwater and remain there throughout their larval stage. Once they metamorphose and are equipped with limbs and lungs, they tend to move onto land where they can walk and breathe.
Axolotls: An Exceptional Amphibian
Because axolotls are amphibians, one would expect that axolotls have all the stand-out characteristics of other amphibians. Surprisingly, this is not the case!
Indeed, axolotls are quite exceptional in terms of development. They are what’s known as neotenic animals. This means that they retain most of their larval features throughout their lives.
Neoteny is a condition in which amphibian larvae reach a reproductive stage without undergoing metamorphosis.
Because axolotls are neotenic, they never lose their external gills, tail fins or wide heads. As such, they are therefore much more adapted to living in water than on land. This is why axolotls remain, aquatic creatures, their entire lives.
Can Axolotls Metamorphose?
Yes, axolotls can metamorphose into fully-fledged adults. Whilst it is possible for axolotls to metamorphose, it’s rather uncommon.
Can Axolotls Breathe Air?
Yes, axolotls have lungs – albeit very rudimentary lungs. These lungs enable axolotls to breathe air if required. However, it is not their preferred method of breathing.
Axolotls will use their lungs when they surface, or when removed from the water.
How Long Can Axolotls Survive Out Of Water?
Yes, axolotls can survive out of the water for anywhere from 1 hour to a few days.
As a matter of fact, an axolotl can survive out of water for quite some time if they are in a moist, cool, and dark environment. However, keeping an axolotl out of water is not recommended.
What Happens When An Axolotl Is Out Of Water For Too Long?
When an axolotl is taken out of water for too long, a number of problems can arise.
Axolotls are VERY sensitive creatures. In particular, they are very sensitive to their environment, light intensity, and the parameters of the water they live in. They also don’t like to be handled. Therefore, taking an axolotl out of the water for too long can cause a huge amount of emotional and potentially physical distress to the animal.
Axolotls have very slimy, moist skin. They have evolved to spend their entire lives underwater, only surfacing or venturing on land on very rare occasions. Therefore, they are not adapted to being out of the water for long and risk becoming dehydrated and/or suffering from breathing issues.
As axolotls are not used to being outside of the water, they are also rather ill-prepared for the dangers which await them outside at the surface. Moreover, their eyesight is relatively poor and they are very sensitive to bright lights. Therefore, there is a substantial risk that an axolotl may either injure itself by falling off of or banging into something. They may also try to eat small objects they find outside of their tank, which may injure them internally or poison them. Moreover, in the wild, there are a number of potential predators which may attack and eat axolotls if they venture onto land.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Axolotls Walk On Land?
Yes, axolotls have 4 legs (2 front legs and 2 hind legs). They can use these legs to move on surfaces underwater (lake bottoms, rocks, submerged logs, roots, or plants) and also walk on land.
Can Axolotls Drown?
Based on our research, axolotls cannot drown. Indeed, they are equipped with external gills which enable them to breathe underwater. They can also breathe through their skin.
Can Axolotls Climb Out Of Their Tank?
Yes, it is possible for axolotls to climb or even jump out of their tank.
However, this is often accidental as axolotls prefer living in the water and the safety of their tank. What sometimes happens is that they explore the features in their tank such as partially submerged logs and end up following them all the way up to the surface, where they eventually fall out of their tank. Other times, they simply swim too fast toward the surface and end up jumping out of the water onto the floor.
Can An Axolotl Live Out Of Water?
Yes, an axolotl can live out of water temporarily. It’s estimated that they can live out of water for anywhere between 1 hour to several days, depending on the terrestrial environment. However, it is not recommended to take an axolotl out of the water.
Do Axolotls Like Water Or Land?
Axolotls much prefer to be in water instead of on land. This is because they are better equipped to live underwater due to their larval features such as external gills and long tails.
What happens if you take an axolotl out of the water?
What happens if you take an axolotl out of water will depend on how long you take it out of the water for, and what the environment you are putting it into is like. Axolotls do not like dry, bright, and hot environments and may become very distressed, very quickly.
Can Axolotls Breathe On Land?
Yes, axolotls have lungs and can breathe on land if required.