Axolotl Care Guide: How to Raise Axolotl for Larva to Adult
Everything that I Learned Raising Two Axolotls
So a little while ago I made the decision to get another pair of Axolotl. The first pair worked out well, but for a multitudinous amount of reason, they died. When I looked through the internet for new axolotl, I found something interesting. I found someone selling week old axolotl larvae (the term for newly hatched axolotl) for sale. I thought that this would be a fun adventure for me. Raise a new pair of axolotl. The challenge turned out to be more then I thought it would be. I thought I would make this care guide to go through the things I wish that I had known when I got my little ones. Here is what I learned.
Before You Get Them
So axolotl are a Mexican salamander that are fully aquatic. They require a couple things to be happy. They are used to colder temperature, so there is no need for a heater, and in fact if you can't keep them cold enough then you will have to get a tank cooler. These should be available on Amazon or at some of the bigger pet stores. 57 - 68 F is the recommended range—a tank thermometer can tell you your temperature, and are available at all pet stores with fish.
They also aren't huge fans of lots of light so keeping them in a darker location is good. Now you can add a light that you turn on to look at them or when you feed them, but don't leave it on all the time. This is required for all axolotl no matter their size.
In terms of filtration they make big poops that can be cleaned out with a turkey baster. But a filter should always be on the tank. Look for one that has as little flow as possible, or makes the water move the least amount. Lots of flow can make the axolotl stressed which can cause problems, including death.
In terms of substrate I would not recommend one. Sand can be used but I would use caution. It can hold onto pockets of ammonia if not properly cleaned on a weekly or semi-weekly basis. Not having a substrate doesn't harm them and makes it easier to clean and keep the axolotl safe. But if you want to use one, do a lot of research.
Don't forget to dechlorinate tap water before you put your axolotl in it. These are easy to get and every pet store with fish should have it.
I got two axolotl. One of them is a wild type, the second is a leucistic. And when I got them they were barely a week old. The thing about axolotl babies that are this young is that they can't smell their food. They find food by looking for movement. And they will only eat food that they can see is moving. This can be difficult to give them. My suggestion is to have brine shrimp hatched and ready to go. Daphnia work as well.
Keep your little friends in a small container—something with a base around 10" x 10" should work fine. When they are this small the amount of water it holds is not a problem as you will want to only have about 2" of water in the bottom of the container—or about 1" above the body of the axolotl. You want the water to be like this so that it is easier for the axolotl to catch their prey. They are quite proficient hunters at this point in time and you're going to want to feed them several times a day. You have to be careful with brine shrimp though and rinse them before you put them into the water. They also die relatively quickly after you add them to the water so be careful not to leave dead shrimp floating around. You only have a little water so it can get bad fast.
In terms of water changes, I would take a turkey baster and remove as much of the visible dirt, poop, and dead shrimp around two to three times a day, about an hour after I fed them. Then I would add back in the water that was lost.
Baby axolotl are also cannibalistic, so be very careful with the ones you keep together and the sizes that they are. Try to keep together ones that are around the same size. They should not be too bad about going after each other if they are the same size. and as similar size adults they can be kept together.
One Month Old
At this point your axolotl should look like little adults. Other than adding more water so that they always have an inch above them in their small tank, there was nothing much that I did differently for their whole first month. I kept my axolotl eating live food. I had enough and the few dead brine shrimp that I had put in had not been eaten. I finally ran out of live brine shrimp and couldn't easily get more, so it was again hoping that they would eat the food. Now that they had all their legs, they should be wanting dead food no problem. They develop their sense of smell while they develop their back legs. So once they have back legs they should have a sense of smell and eat dead food. And sure enough, after a day of not eating, which I thought might happen, they took their first bites of dead frozen brine shrimp. You're going to want to thaw out the shrimp in regular water to give them a good rinse before you feed them. But at a month old, they should be able to eat dead food. Now how often you feed them has more to do with your scheduled than theirs. Ideally they should be fed twice a day until they reach two inches in length. But I could not do this, so once a day it was, and they are fine.
Juveniles to Adult
Once your axolotl has legs and is eating food that isn't alive then the greatest challenge is figuring out what food they like and eat, and changing that with them as they get bigger. Frozen brine shrimp and bloodworms are really good choices when they're small. As they grow you can add cut up worms into the mix. Adult axolotl eat mostly earthworms or any worm you can get. A good tip is that bait stores always have worms.
The tanks should get much bigger once they are around three inches and they will want room to swim. It is a good idea to use a twenty gallon tank even if you have just one. This gives them more room to swim around in.
Long-term Care for Adults
For adults, being able to swim around is key—as much as the guidelines normally say 10 gallons of water for each axolotl, the more water the better. And a twenty gallon long tank has the footprint to let them swim around a lot, even if it is just one. They should do just fine being fed one large worm a day. And along with a water change every week, or two depending on your filter, you should do spot cleaning with a turkey baster. Feeding them some brine shrimp of blood worms is never bad, they might just find it small.
An adult axolotl can reach sizes of 6-18 inches and live for 20 years, although over 10 is not very common.
I hope this helps those struggling with tiny baby axolotl, as well as getting some of you to think about an axolotl yourself. If you need more convincing about adult axolotl you can read my article about why they make amazing pets.