As I'm sure my loyal blog readers already know, one of my favorite things to post about -- along with Tatu, shower curtains, and the quran -- are unusual animals, especially sea creatures.
Well when I was at work today (it was a short day for me: first I got up/got in late and then at 4, when the IT people had to shut down the server for maintenance for like an hour, I took it as my cue to leave) I found this blog post entitled 27 aquatic lifeforms you never caught while fishing. It contains some interesting information. The first critter on the list is actually a robo-carp which is pretty cool but not technically a lifeform. It also mentions the mysterious Coelacanth, a throwback from the Cretaceous period which scientists believed to be extinct for millions of years before several live specimens were caught off the coast of southern Africa and, recently, in Indonesia. But the creature that most caught my attention was the Axolotl. Look at the picture of it above: with its happy smiling face (ok, I know its not really smiling) and its wavy red gills it almost looks like an aquatic fraggle.
Axolotls are amphibians in the salamander family, and they are also neotenous meaning that unlike other salamanders they do not proceed to the adult developmental stage as they age. Instead they remain in the larval stage for their entire life where they retain their gills, reach sexual maturity, and grow up to 18 inches in size (most Axolotls are around nine inches). When introduced to hormones Axolotls may actually metamorphose into the lost adult stage where their coloring is more like that of other salamanders.
In the wild, Axolotls are only found in the remnants of Lake Xochimilco near Mexico City. They formerly inhabited both Lake Chalco and Lake Xochimilco, but, unfortunately for the Axolotl, Lake Chalco was drained and Xochimilco is not so much a lake anymore as it is a group of canals. Due to its diminished habitat and pressures put on the population by the growth of Mexico ciudad, the Axolotl is listed as a critically endangered species. In the Aztec language Axolotl is thought to mean "water dog". The Axolotl was also a staple of the Aztec diet and apparently you can still find grilled Axolotl in Mexico city.
Axolotls are widely used as test subjects by scientists due to their ability to regenerate body parts and ease in breeding. Apparently some people keep them as pets too (weird). These facts will probably assure that the species survives even if only in captivity.
For more information on the Axolotl and how to properly care for them (if that's what you're into) check out http://www.axolotl.org/ .