Can Axolotl Live on Land


As axolotl owners we have found that it is best to keep them in the water and their skin wet all of the time. They are known to sit on a rock with their heads out of water and even climb out of water and walk on land for short periods of time.

Axolotl can breathe out of the water for a short period of time but generally cannot survive for more than an hour. Axolotls get most of their oxygen through their gills while submerged in their aquatic environment. Axolotls develop small complex lungs 3 weeks after birth and can also absorb some oxygen through their skin but cannot get enough oxygen from their gills, lungs or skin to survive on land for long.

The axolotl come from the cool lakes of Mexico, specifically found in the wild in Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco. where they are known as the Mexican salamander. Amphibious salamanders typically lose their gills and develop lungs as they mature. Axolotls are uniquely neotenic, meaning they retain juvenile traits throughout their lifetime such as retaining their gills, making them permanent residents of their aquatic environments. For more helpful information about axolotl traits, their ideal environment, care and feeding, please see our article Axolotls as Pets.

Their skin is thin and soft, which makes it easy for water to leave their bodies. Without a steady flow of oxygen rich water, axolotls would dry out quickly on land and have a hard time staying alive.

Axolotl Land Experiment

Scientists have tried to manipulate the living conditions of axolotl to see if they were biologically adaptive to living on land. The experiment attempted to adjust the axolotl to life on land by slowly lowering the water level and giving them places to hide. The experiment concluded that axolotl were unable to adapt to living conditions on land but found that axoltl have enormous regerative abilities, similar to other amphibians but of a greater magnatude.

For more expansive information on the experiment and findings please see the research publication from the University of Regensburg in Germany on The Mexican Axolotl, Experimental Practices and the Long History of Regeneration Research in the “Cell and Developmental Biology” section of Frontiersin.org.

What Happens to an Axolotl if You Take Them Out of Water

Axolotl are not physiologically evolved to live on land for very long. Because these amphibians are primarily suited for aquatic environments the consequences of removing them from water are quite severe. If you take an axolotl out of water for an extended period of time they may suffer shock, severe stress, damage to muscles, limbs and organs, dehydration. They would also be subject to infections, suffocation, overheating and even death.

Let’s go over the consequences of removing an axolotl from water (for an extended period of time) in a little more detail.

Shock:

If an axolotl is taken out of the water without time to acclimate to air, the sudden change can cause shock. Shock is presented with gasping and respiratory distress, and in extreme cases can lead to death. Slowly moving them from water, keeping their skin wet and giving them time to acclimate to air while watching for any signs of respiratory distress is essential for their safety and survival.

Stress:

Watching an axolotl move around in their tank may make you think they could walk or crawl around on land like other salamanders however axolotls are uniquely adapted for an aquatic lifestyle. Their bodies are streamlined, and their limbs are relatively short and unsuitable for efficient movement on land.

The fact is axolotls may experience physical stress due to the lack of buoyancy and cannot support the weight of their body outside of water or the stress it places on their bodies for extended periods of time. Their delicate bodies can be easily injured if mishandled or subjected to pressure while out of water.

Damage to Muscles, Limbs and Organs:

The environmental stress from being outside their aquatic habitat can damage delicate muscles, dislocate their limbs and place unmanageable stress on their internal organs as they try to navigate dry land.

Dehydration:

If an axolotl is outside of water for too long, they can potentially become dehydrated. Axolotls have moist, permeable skin which is an essential part of their respiration. When they are out of water, their skin can quickly dry out, leading to desiccation. This can disrupt their osmotic balance, causing dehydration and impairing their ability to breath. These amphibians have evolved to living under water and depend upon water exchange to critical organs through their skin. Without access to water while on land, an axolotl can potentially die if they do not receive necessary treatment in time.

As a best practice to reduce the risk of dehydration, place your axolotl in a shallow dish of clean water and regularly mist your pet with a fine particle misting bottle.

Infections:

Axolotl have developed a natural mucosal coating that covers their entire body. This slippery coating protects their organs and is a critical part of their immune system. If their mucous coating dries up while they are outside of their tank it will leave them susceptible to infections and disease and leave them without the needed immune system to recover.

Suffocation:

Axolotls are dependent upon their well-structured gills to extract oxygen from their aquatic habitat to breath. While they possess rudimentary lungs and can absorb some oxygen through their skin when in air their highly developed gills cannot efficiently carry needed oxygen to vital organs outside of water.

When removed from water, axolotls may experience respiratory stress due to the decreased availability of oxygen. This can lead to suffocation if they are not returned to water in time.

Overheating:

Axolotls are ectothermic, meaning they rely on external sources to regulate their body temperature. In their natural habitat, they inhabit relatively stable aquatic environments. The process of water exchange through the skin to vital organs enable the regulation of body temperature.

When taken out of water, they are exposed to temperature fluctuations that can adversely affect their metabolism and physiological functions. Extreme temperatures, whether too hot or too cold, can stress axolotls and compromise their health. If you remove your axolotl from their watery environment for too long, the lack of water to these organs leads to dysregulation of body temperature and can lead to overheating and death.

Can Axolotls Walk on Land

They are often referred to as “Mexican walking fish” due to their aquatic lifestyle and unique appearance, but contrary to the name they are actually amphibians rather than fish and they don’t actually walk on dry land.

It appears as though the axolotl have little legs and feet, but these are actually fins unique to their aquatic salamander physiology. The neotenic traits of the axolotl inhibit the development of strengthened limbs that would have enabled their walking on land. The juvenile characteristics keeping fins are retained into adulthood rather than developing mature legs and feet. The resulting fins are not strong enough maneuver or hold up the weight of the axolotl out of the water for long periods of time.

While axolotls can survive for short periods out of water, it’s important to note that they are not adapted for terrestrial life like some other amphibians. On land, axolotls move by using a type of walking motion known as “axolotl walking.” This involves a combination of wriggling their bodies and pushing themselves forward with their legs.

In Summary:

In general, you should handle axolotls with gentle care and minimize the duration of time they spend out of water. If removal from water is absolutely necessary for maintenance or relocation, it should be done carefully and swiftly. Providing a moist environment during handling can help mitigate the risk of desiccation. Returning axolotls to their aquatic habitat promptly is essential for their health and well-being.

Recent Posts