Axolotls are famous for being neotenic. Unlike other animals, they don’t undergo metamorphosis.
Instead, they retain their juvenile features for their entire life. That’s why adult axolotls retain their external gills, webbed feet, long tail, and dorsal fin. They also remain purely aquatic animals and continue to live underwater.
However, on rare occasions, axolotls morph. And when it happens, most owners panic and don’t know what to do.
Thankfully, none of my axolotls have ever morphed. But I like to hope for the best and plan for the worst. So I’ve looked into the phenomenon.
Here’s what I learned and what I would do if it happened.
Table of Contents
- Why Do Axolotls Morph?
- Is My Axolotl Morphing?
- Can You Stop an Axolotl from Morphing?
- What to Do if My Axolotl Is Morphing?
- How Do Big Do Morphed Axolotls Grow?
- How Long Do Morphed Axolotls Live?
Why Do Axolotls Morph?
Axolotls tend to morph when exposed to iodine or thyroxine in their water. High concentrations of either substance have been linked to axolotl morphing.
In fact, scientists can induce metamorphosis in axolotls as part of experiments. In particular, when studying the ability of morphed axolotls to regenerate.
At home, your axolotl might begin to morph for no apparent reason. The quality of the axolotl’s water may certainly be a cause, but other factors such as genetics, habitat, or general health may also play a role.
Is My Axolotl Morphing?
There are a few signs that indicate that your pet axolotl is morphing. I’ve made a list of the most common traits below.
- Receding external gills (look like they’re shrinking).
- Protruding eyes.
- Developing eyelids.
- Shrinking tail.
- Shrinking dorsal fin.
- Thickening legs (they look stumpier).
- Change in color (darkening or lightening of their skin).
- Change in behavior.
If your axolotl shows any of these signs, remain vigilant. If it shows multiple symptoms together, it’s usually a confirmation that your axolotl is morphing.
Consult a veterinarian or an axolotl expert if in any doubt.
Can You Stop an Axolotl from Morphing?
Once an axolotl begins to morph, it’s generally too late to stop the process.
The biological process of transformation has already started.
In fact, rather than hinder or try to reverse the process, you should take measures to keep your axolotl comfortable while it undergoes metamorphosis.
What to Do if My Axolotl Is Morphing?
A morphed axolotl will become a land-dwelling creature, like an adult tiger salamander. It will still need water to drink and keep moist. But, it will spend most of its time on dry land and breathe air, like other adult salamanders.
Step 1: Remove Axolotl From Aquarium
It’s important that you remove the morphing axolotl from its aquarium before its tail and dorsal fin disappear. Without these body parts, your axolotl will find it difficult to swim to the surface to breathe air and may drown.
So, you will need to make changes to your axolotl’s habitat. Instead of living in an aquarium, you will need to make a paludarium for it. A paludarium is a habitat composed of both dry land and water.
While you prepare the paludarium, you can put your axolotl in a large tub or bucket, with a little bit of water. The water must not be too deep, just about high enough to cover the axolotl’s back and leave its head above the water.
Step 2: Create A Paludarium
The good news is that you can use your axolotl tank to make its paludarium.
You simply need to create a land mass, where your morphed axolotl can live. To do this, add slate or large stones with soft edges, and soil at one end of its tank. You can also add features such as a hide, driftwood, and plants, to keep the area shaded and dark. This newly created land area should cover about 2/3 of the tank bottom.
Then, you can add water to the paludarium. The water should naturally flow to the area of the tank that doesn’t have any features, and create a sort of bathing pool for your axolotl to bathe in. The water level should only be high enough to cover your axolotl’s back. And shouldn’t submerge the surface of the land mass.
The end result should be similar to what you see at the seaside. Land that gradually leads into the ocean. Your axolotl should be able to easily move in and out of the water. You should also place a little bowl of water on the land area, for your axolotl to drink out of. Finally, remember to cover your newly formed habitat with a lid or cover. The cover needs to let air in and out so your pet can breathe, all while preventing your pet from escaping.
Step 3: Maintain Their New Environment
A morphed axolotl will look and behave like an adult tiger salamander.
In particular, it will need a dark, moist environment to survive and thrive. So, make sure to siphon out and replace the water in the bathing area, top up the water bowl, and keep the soil damp and humid. You can use a spray bottle to spray water on the soil, plants, and hide to achieve this.
Also, remember that axolotls don’t like bright lights and warm temperatures. Morphed axolotls are no different.
Finally, morphed axolotls like to dig and burrow. So they will likely displace a lot of their soil, and create mounds and tunnels. This behavior is normal. Make sure to regularly replace the soil as their waste will get mixed in with it.
Morphed axolotls will continue to eat their normal diet, mainly different types of earthworms.
How Do Big Do Morphed Axolotls Grow?
A morphed axolotl will generally be slightly shorter than its non-morphed aquatic siblings. Therefore, instead of reaching an adult size of approximately 12 inches (or 30 cm), they might reach 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm). The difference in length is mainly due to the fact that their tail becomes shorter when they metamorphose.
How Long Do Morphed Axolotls Live?
The lifespan of a morphed axolotl will depend on many factors such as their age at the time of morphing, the reasons that caused them to morph, and how you look after them after metamorphosis.
the younger the axolotl is when it metamorphoses, the longer you can expect it to live (all else being equal). Older axolotls tend to be weakened by the transformation. It takes a lot out of them and may even weaken their immune system. The transition from aquatic life to a land-dwelling creature is a tough one!
However, if your axolotl morphs early on and is well taken care of, then you might expect it to live in excess of 10 years. Maybe longer.