Jess has been obsessed with axolotls since childhood and has been caring for her own for years.
Axolotls are a unique type of aquatic salamander that is growing in popularity as pets. They are definitely eye-catching, and they can be very fun to interact with.
When considering whether or not to get an axolotl as a pet you may be wondering exactly how difficult they are to care for. This article will take you through all of the details of what kind of aquarium you need, how to maintain the water, and what to feed them.
First and foremost, you need to make sure that you use a big enough tank. A 20-gallon long tank is a good size for one axolotl, and if you are going to have more than one in the tank, the rule of thumb is to add at least 10 gallons for each additional axolotl.
It is good to get an aquarium that isn't very tall and has more floor space because axolotls are bottom dwellers. This is why a lot of experienced keepers use either 20-gallon long aquariums for one axolotl, or 40-gallon breeders are a popular choice for two.
It is pretty easy to find tanks in either of these sizes at pet stores or even second-hand on Craigslist or the Facebook marketplace.
Axolotls create a lot of waste, so you will need a good filter. The two most popular types of filters for a beginning axolotl keeper are sponge filters and filters that hang on the back of the tank (HOB filters). A filter for your axolotl tank needs to be powerful, but you don't want it to affect the water flow too much, because they like pretty still water.
There are many options for HOB filters. When you are choosing one make sure that they can move a lot of water since axolotls produce such a large amount of waste, and that the water flow is adjustable. It is also a good idea to pick one with biofilters. This way you can replace the filter cartridge but there will still be beneficial bacteria in the filter. The only downside to these filters is that they will produce water movement, but you can make this less harsh by tying a sponge to the output.
These are the least expensive filters, but they are still very effective! These are really popular with axolotl keepers because they clean the water, there is no water flow, and they produce oxygen in the tank. A sponge filter is a foam sponge connected to an air pump. The air pump causes bubbles to go out of the top of the filter through a lift tube, and this sucks aquarium water through the sponge. The sponge then catches any waste or debris in your tank. These filters are also helpful for maintaining beneficial bacteria in your tank.
I choose to use both of these filters in my tank because they both are very useful, but either of these options can provide adequate filtration on their own.
A beginning axolotl tank should either have sand or be bare-bottomed. Large rocks like slate or pieces of tile can also be ok, but just be sure that there are no chemicals that can be leached into the water through the tile.
Axolotls should never be housed on gravel or rocks the size of their heads or smaller. They can and will eat these and they won't be able to pass them. This can lead to impaction and death.
Other decorations are pretty simple. Just make sure that whatever you are using is soft and can't cut the axolotl in any way. Fake aquarium plants are ok, and so are hides as long as they can comfortably get in and out.
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Terra cotta pots make great easy hides—axolotls appreciate hides like this because they don't like light. If you want, you can even try your hand at growing live aquarium plants. Try to get plants that thrive in cold water and low light conditions.
Keeping Track of Water Quality
The easiest way to keep track of water quality is to use a test kit that tests for pH, nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia. The API Freshwater test kit is the brand I use and many aquarium keepers swear by it.
Ammonia and nitrite should both be at 0 ppm, nitrate should be between 20 and 60 ppm and pH should be around 7.4 to 7.6 although anywhere from 6.4 to 8.0 will not be dangerous.
It is important to have a fully cycled tank before your axolotls are added. This can take a couple of weeks so you want to do this before you have the axolotl. The nitrogen cycle can be a little tricky when you are first learning about it, but don't let it intimidate you! You are basically building up good bacteria so that your nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia stay at an appropriate level. I will link a video on the nitrogen cycle below.
Another thing to watch out for is water temperature. The ideal water temperature for axolotls is 60–64 degrees Fahrenheit (16–18 degrees Celsius), but it is very important to keep the temperature below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius).
If you live in a very hot climate, you may have to buy an aquarium chiller, but if where you live isn't very hot, you may be ok with a fan over the top of your tank.
Water Changes and Aquarium Maintenance
This is the biggest ongoing chore you will have with axolotls. It is recommended to do 25% weekly water changes. If you test your water and you realize that your ammonia or nitrites are high you should do a 50% water change. If you are unable to keep them down after that, your cycle may have crashed and you may have to temporarily move your axolotls.
To make things easier you can spot clean your axolotl's tank during the week. They will leave piles of poop and it is a lot easier to clean them when they are in the piles than when axolotls stomp through them (gross, I know, but they definitely do that). To spot clean simply take a turkey baster and suck out whatever is making a mess. You can use this method for both discarded food and waste to keep ammonia levels down between water changes.
Remember to always dechlorinate water before adding it to the tank. Some axolotl safe de-chlorinators are Seachem Prime or Tetra Aquasafe.
The best things to feed an axolotl are either live worms or a high-quality pellet. There are other options, but for a new owner, worms or pellets will be the easiest option.
- Worms are nutritionally complete and are a great staple food. You may be able to find them at a store near your house, but if you can't there are several places online that you can order them from.
- There are several kinds of pellets that can be used for axolotls. Sinking carnivore pellets are great, and now there are kinds specifically made for axolotls.
These are the best things to feed adult axolotls, juvenile axolotls are a bit more tricky. For beginners, I would recommend getting an axolotl that is at least 3 or 4 inches long so that they can eat pellets and worms.
You may have to cut up the worms at this age but once they grow to their adult size they will have no problem eating a whole worm. Young axolotls will need to eat every day, but full-grown axolotls will only need to eat 1–2 worms, or as many pellets as they can eat within 3 minutes, every 2–3 days.
They Are Manageable as Pets
Axolotls do have specific care requirements, but they are definitely not the most difficult aquatic species to take care of. If you have previous fishkeeping experience they may not seem that difficult in comparison.
Just know that axolotls are sensitive and you may not be able to use the same products that you would use in a fish tank.
If you don't have any experience with aquariums, that does not mean that you can't be a great axolotl owner! The fact that you are doing your research is already a great step.
- Sponge Filters: Cheap Mechanical and Bio Filtration for Your Aquarium
- Requirements & Water Conditions
- Axolotl (Mexican Walking Fish): Species Profile
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Jess H