Everything You Need To Know

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Black axolotls are a unique variation of an extremely popular and iconic aquatic pet. But interestingly enough, many people don’t even know they exist!

This guide will go over everything you need to know about black axolotls, and how to care for them.

Species Summary

Axolotls are some of the most captivating aquatic creatures you can keep. Also known as “Mexican walking fish,” these beautiful salamanders come in a range of colors. Wild specimens are usually gray or dark green, but the albino variants are some of the most well-known.

The black axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) is a newer color morph of the standard axolotl that’s taking the hobby by storm! Darker than wild salamanders, these creatures offer a mysterious twist to an already curious animal.

An adult black axolotl

This variant is a product of selective breeding, but their genetic ancestors only come from Lake Xochimilco in Mexico.

Author Note: It’s worth digging into the clarification about what these animals actually are. Contrary to popular belief, a black axolotl is neither a fish nor a lizard. It’s an amphibious salamander.

But what really makes them unique is that they are neotenous. Neoteny occurs when an animal stays in its larval form. Usually, an amphibian would spend its larval stage in the water before moving onto land, but that doesn’t happen with black axolotls. They stay in their aquatic larval forms their entire lives!

The black axolotl is a great pet. It’s fun to take care of, and you may even start seeing your salamander personality emerge.

Appearance

Black axolotls have a distinct look you can’t miss!

These critters have the body shape of a lizard, complete with legs and arms. But because this animal lives underwater, it has unique physical characteristics to help it navigate the dark depths.

Take the tail as an example. It’s long and considerably large. From above, it has an unmistakable tadpole-like shape. Above and below the tail appendage are fleshy fins.

They run along the entire length of the tail and part of the back.

The legs are relatively short. On the front feet, the salamanders have four slightly webbed toes. On the rear, they have five!

The most defining and beloved trait of the black axolotl is the signature “headdress.” Six frilly appendages sprout from the back of the creature’s head, creating a crown-like profile that you often don’t see in the animal kingdom.

Those appendages are external gills, which the axolotl uses to breathe underwater. They feature a central stalk and fine, feathery filaments sprouting around the perimeter. Black axolotls have black or slightly purple filaments instead of the pink you usually see with albino variants.

Author Note: This color morph is all black. Even the eyes are black. Black axolotls are melanistic which means they have a genetic mutation that causes excess dark pigmentation throughout the body.

Lifespan

Getting a black axolotl requires years of commitment. Their lifespan can reach up to 15 years with proper care.

As always, how long your axolotl lives depends on many factors. Next to genetics, the quality of care you provide has a significant impact. Axolotls in substandard living conditions or those fed a poor diet can succumb to disease and untimely early death.

Average Size

If you purchase a juvenile black axolotl from a dealer or pet store, it may only be a few inches long. But these aquatic animals quickly grow to reach lengths of 11 to 12 inches.

Author Note: Their tails make up most of that measurement. Despite that, these pets need ample room to live comfortably (more on tank size requirements soon).

Black Axolotl Care

Black axolotl care is considered moderately difficult in a home aquarium setting. If this is your first foray into raising amphibious creatures, these can be a reasonable first choice. They are adaptable, and their habitat needs aren’t as extreme as some assume.

Other aspects of their care can be challenging, but their needs are relatively easy to meet if you have some fish-keeping experience. Follow these care guidelines, and you can enjoy a happy and healthy black axolotl for years to come.

Tank Size

Many people assume that you need a massive tank to keep black axolotls because of their size. While they do need room to roam, they’re not fast swimmers. You won’t see them zipping through the tank like active fish.

As a result, they do fine in relatively small spaces. Experts recommend keeping these creatures in tanks with at least 20 gallons of water. If you have the means to go bigger, do so! More room is always welcome.

However, a 20-gallon tank should suffice for a single black axolotl. That’s enough room for the fish to swim comfortably while giving you plenty of space to add simple decor.

Water Parameters

Black axolotls have a few unique requirements as far as water parameters go. This species is endemic to Lake Xochimilco, which sits about 2,000 feet above sea level. The lake’s location keeps it relatively cool throughout the year.

These creatures are adaptable but don’t do well in standard-fare tropic fish conditions. Depending on where you live, you may have to invest in a water chiller to keep temperatures just right.

The good news is that black axolotls aren’t picky regarding pH and hardness, giving you a little more wiggle room. As long as you avoid extremes and stick to the preferred ranges below, your axolotls should have no issues.

As always, do your best to keep water conditions stable. While black axolotls don’t make much fuss about modest fluctuations, extreme swings can lead to unnecessary stress.

  • Water temperature: 50 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (Between 60 and 64 is ideal)
  • pH levels: 6.5 to 8.0 (Near neutral)
  • Water hardness: 7 to 14 GH

What To Put In Their Tank

The great thing about black axolotls is that they don’t have too many requirements for decorations. As long as you create a natural-looking habitat and give the creature a place to hide, it’ll do well in captivity.

The best substrates at the bottom of the tank are smooth gravel or sand. Most hobbyists prefer to use sand because gravel may pose a compaction issue. These salamanders are prone to accidentally eating gravel.

Three black axolotls swimming together

It could stuff up their digestive system and create life-threatening complications if that happens. You can have a bare-bottom tank if you want to avoid all possible compaction issues. Black axolotls don’t care either way.

Add a relatively large piece of driftwood. A piece that forms a natural cave is best. You can also utilize rocks to create a makeshift shelter.

Black axolotls can be shy. They need a space to hide when things get stressful. When they don’t have a small getaway, they can experience stress-related diseases.

Plants are a great way to add some enrichment to the tank. However, your options are limited.

Black axolotls need low light. Most hobbyists don’t use lights at all, relying on room lighting to simulate that day/night cycle instead. Too many bright lights will stress your axolotl out, so you must avoid using powerful lighting rigs.

Unfortunately, that makes standard aquatic plants out of the question. You can use silk plants. Not only are they fake and don’t need lights, but they’re easier to secure, preventing your axolotl from uprooting them.

There is one exception for plants. Floating species can be beneficial for your black axolotl habitat. They stay on the surface to get light while sheltering your axolotl from too much brightness.

Author Note: For equipment, invest in a good filter and chiller if necessary. Some aquarists say that you don’t need a filter. However, it’s wise to have one anyway. Filters will take care of the black axolotl’s bioload, keeping ammonia levels low and tank conditions stable.

Common Possible Diseases

Black axolotls are hardy creatures, but they can still suffer from many diseases.

The external gills are sensitive, and your pet can encounter health issues due to inferior water conditions. When temperatures get too high or ammonia levels spike, the salamander gets stressed. That opens them up to bacterial infections and parasites.

Parasites usually get introduced into the environment due to food. Feeder fish are notorious for causing problems. In most cases, they don’t cause an issue. But the moment your axolotl gets stressed due to environmental changes; those parasites take hold.

The most common parasitic infections come from anchor worms.

Bacterial infections can also affect your black axolotl. Bacteria can latch onto those delicate gill filaments. Infections can also occur in the mouth, eyes, and anywhere else on the body.

Treating infections requires veterinary assistance and antibiotic medications.

Fungal infections like mycosis can occur, too. Mycosis causes cotton-like growths to develop on the skin and body. It’s usually a byproduct of poor tank conditions and requires careful treatment.

Avoid using salt baths without veterinary assistance. Excess salt in their environment can cause issues due to the animal’s permeable skin.

Food & Diet

Black axolotls are natural carnivores and need a high-protein diet to stay healthy.

Feeding these pets can be tricky. They have poor eyesight and can be picky about what they consume. You’ll quickly find that these animals need movement and strong odors to be interested.

It’s possible to train younger black axolotls to eat commercial pellets. But even then, it’s hit or miss.

The best things you can provide are slow live foods. Good options include:

Thawed frozen foods work, too. The smell is usually enough.

Once you find the right mix of foods, your black axolotl will want to eat any opportunity it gets. However, you must stick to a schedule to avoid overfeeding. Adults only need to eat once or twice a week. Juveniles need three meals a week.

If your black axolotl has issues recognizing the food, try using tongs. Waving the food in front of the salamander is usually enough to get them to eat.

Behavior & Temperament

Don’t let the cute and quirky appearance of the black axolotl fool you. It’s a known aggressor that can cause problems for other creatures in the tank.

Axolotls are natural-born predators. They will consume fish, snails, or shrimp inhabiting the same environment. Not only that, but they have poor eyesight.

As a result, they have the occasional habit of biting at anything that comes close. That includes other axolotls.

The good news is that they are pretty gentle with owners. One of the most rewarding aspects of owning a black axolotl is seeing their personality emerge. After getting comfortable in their new environment, they will learn to recognize you.

You may even start noticing your black axolotl interacting with you through the glass! They often respond to owners as they approach the tank. The animal’s curious nature makes them a joy to raise, and it’s not hard to create a personal connection.

Tank Mates

Unfortunately, it’s not a good idea to keep black axolotls with any tank mate. Some hobbyists have success with similarly sized creatures and large tanks. But there’s still a major risk of issues.

The aggressive nature of the black axolotl makes cohabitation difficult. Plus, the delicate gills are prone to injury. Any violence whatsoever puts every creature in the tank at risk.

Fortunately, black axolotls don’t mind living alone! Create a rich environment with plenty of things to do, and they’ll be quite happy.

Breeding

Breeding can be a challenge. But it’s possible if you have a pair of black axolotls that grew up together.

Well-acquainted males and females can live together, but this usually requires careful attention from a very early age. Introducing random mature specimens into the same tank can lead to aggression.

However, a bonded pair can coexist peacefully and may breed once a year!

To initiate breeding, set up a separate tank with silk plants. The plants are necessary because the female uses them to keep eggs safe.

Condition them with plenty of high-protein foods. Some breeders recommend slowly lowering the temperature by about five degrees to what the normal tank is. Eventually, that will encourage the male to initiate spawning.

Females lay upwards of 200 eggs, scattering them onto plants and other surfaces in the tank. After she lays her eggs, raise the temperature slowly. In about 15 days, the eggs will hatch.

Remove the adults and allow the babies to develop on their own. Provide high-protein foods about three times per week to keep the young black axolotls healthy.            

Closing Thoughts

Black axolotls can make great pets if you’re willing to provide them with the right aquarium conditions. These fascinating creatures are a job to own, and aren’t overly challenging to care for.

If you want to learn more about these unique animals, let us know! We love chatting about them with our readers.


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