Home | Amphibians | Breeding Mexican Axolotls – Ambystoma mexicanum

Breeding Mexican Axolotls – Ambystoma mexicanum

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

Please see The Natural History of Axolotls and The Captive Care of Axolotls for further information on this fascinating captives.  Today I’ll finish up with a note on reproduction.

Inducing Reproduction

Adult axolotls are sexually dimorphic, with females being of a heavier build and having shorter and broader heads than males.  The cloaca of the male is noticeably swollen during the breeding season, and gravid females become very plump.

The natural change in day length and room temperature in temperate regions is often enough to stimulate reproduction.  Animals under my care in NY respond to natural variations in room temperature (they are housed in a cool basement) and possibly day-length (light enters through a ground level window).  Females generally lay from January through March, sometimes into April, at water temperatures of 55-60 F.

A sudden increase of water volume and a drop in water temperature seems to stimulate breeding even outside of the normal breeding season. Be careful, however, that females actually lay their eggs when artificial methods such as this are utilized. Retained eggs are a great concern among many captive amphibians, although I have not run into such with axolotls.

The Eggs

Please see the Natural History of Axolotls for details on courtship and mating.  Females have been observed to pick up several spermatophores during the night, although it is not clear all are from one or several males.  Eggs are attached to water plants or any other substrate within the tank. Plastic plants make ideal deposition sites (from a pet-keepers point of view!) as they are easily removed from the aquarium.

Axolotls are ravenous consumers of their own eggs, and few will survive if the adults are left in the same tank. At temperatures of 55 to 60°F, the eggs will hatch within two to three weeks. I generally provide them with mild aeration, just enough to keep the eggs slightly moving. Eggs deposited on plants and on floating objects seem to have a higher hatch rate than do those laid along the bottom of the aquarium, so be sure to provide suitable sites for your females.

Caring for Axolotl Larvae

The larvae lie motionless for a day or so after hatching, after which they become veritable eating machines.  They are best raised in a bare-bottomed plastic or glass aquarium.  Mild aeration via the return from a corner or sponge filter should be provided.  The young require daily feedings and very frequent water changes – after having raised 160 to adulthood at one point, I can vouch for this as being a labor-intensive but ultimately rewarding task. 

I’ve found light plastic terrariums or sweater boxes that can be easily dumped and filled to be the method of choice when rearing large numbers of salamanders.  I’ve also used plastic wading pools, but unless you can arrange a way to drain and re-fill easily, these can be a bit un-wieldy to work with.  The extra room they provide does, however cut down on cannibalism.  Please see Captive Care of the Mexican Axolotl (Physical Environment, Feeding) for tips on setting up enclosures and feeding axolotl larvae.

Please write in with your questions and comments. Thanks, Frank Indiviglio.

The IUCN’s recommended conservation strategy for this species, as well as historical and natural history information, is posted at:

http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/1095

36 comments

  1. avatar

    About seventeen years ago I had a white female and a green male that were very active breeders. I vividly remember how labor intensive this can be. Those two taught me an awful lot about responsibility when I was at a rather young age!

  2. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your comment and interest in our blog.

    You’re right! Daily water changes, feeding several times each day, separating out those being attacked and so on. Amphibians are like that – so many are in trouble in the wild, but when they breed in captivity it’s often an “embarrassment of riches”! Before commercial diets were available, I raised African clawed frog tadpoles, which are filter-feeders, on nettle tea extract – they went through about a gallon of the preparation every day…

    I agree with you on the responsibility aspect. I’ve set up tadpole exhibits in schools and it comes through clearly to many of the children that they are directly responsible for what happens. I think amphibians are especially useful in this regard, because it only takes 1 mistake, 1 slip-up in the planning, to cause a loss.

    Axolotl genetics seem not to follow the usual rules…if you have a chance, please let me know what the offspring of your pair looked like, color-wise. Also, I’d be interested to know how you raised them – diet, temperatures, growth rate, etc. It’s always useful to compare and refine. Thanks very much.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    As I recall, the offspring were all green colored. I was slightly disappointed because I really liked the large white female I had.

    Seventeen years seems like a long time ago, I was only twelve at the time. I wish I could tell you about the details of my experience, but I’m afraid that most of those escape me. I do remember that the owner of the store I purchased the parents from gave me a bottle of liquid drops to use as a nutrient additive to the water. When the young were older I fed them crushed ReptoMin floating food sticks. The animals that survived to adulthood were all green (I remember being disappointed by that, I really liked my white female). I did not have a heater to regulate temperatures, and I used sponge filters in the both the parents’ and offspring’s aquariums.

    Sorry I couldn’t be of more help to you. When I caught your blog, it briefly transported me back in time and I had to respond. I think about those two axolotls each time I visit “That Pet Place” for supplies. I have a 20 gallon long tank that I’d probably put back into action if I ever found a white axolotl again.

  4. avatar

    Hello Joe, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the feedback… I was interested to see if any white offspring had been produced. I’ve read a bit about axolotl genetics but they are always surprising me with unexpected combinations. The pet trade’s founder animals are believed to have inter-bred with tiger salamanders (some Mexican tiger salamander subspecies are neotenic, i.e. they breed in the aquatic stage) – I’ve often wondered if the infusion of tiger salamander genes may explain some of the unusual breeding results that occur from time to time.

    There is a fluorescent green morph available now, bred for lab use but found its way into the trade (probably thanks to some underpaid researcher!). Please let me know if you decide to set up a tank again, I may be able to refer you to axolotl sources.

    Thanks again, best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    Hello.,
    I have axolotl eggs! I wrote you last time and am very new at keeping them but soon as I set them up in my basement 1 laid about 100 or more eggs!Of cours I’m full of smiles but have never raised eggs. I removed them and hAve them in aerating water, please help! thanks for getting me started with these guys!

  6. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Great news! Thanks for keeping me posted.

    When you set them up in your basement, the axolotls likely experienced a temperature change that sparked egg-laying. If you have a pair, the eggs are most likely fertile – you should see the embryos begin to develop within a few days. It’s a very interesting process – they’ll take on the shape of small “commas” and you can watch them grow and eventually move about within the egg.

    It’s good that you have moved the eggs and are providing aeration. I suggest you add a sponge filter…this will be helpful both now and once the eggs begin to hatch. Provide just enough aeration so that the eggs vibrate slightly (if your air pump moves the eggs about vigorously, cut back on its power with a gang valve).

    Congratulations…I think you are in for a great experience. Please keep me posted as the eggs develop.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar

    Hello,the axolotl eggs I wrote about last time are hatching! Thanks so much for the info, I have read the article but any more tips you could send would be so useful, I really want this to work out. Thank you.

  8. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for the update…. I’m so pleased to hear the good news! You are in for a very interesting and enjoyable experience.

    The most important points would be to keep them in a bare-bottomed aquarium with mild filtration and plenty of cover and with food available as often as possible for the first 2 weeks or so.

    A sponge filter is the best filtering option for new hatchlings. Frequent partial water changes (i.e. 25% daily for 100 larvae in a 10 gallon aquarium at first, increasing to 50% after 2 weeks) are vital, as the larvae will be producing a great deal of waste each day…don’t let water clarity fool you – ammonia will be present in force! Net out uneaten food (use a brine shrimp net) and rinse the sponge filter daily.

    Chopped live blackworms (use a razor blade) can form the basis of their diet…a worm feeder will lessen the likelihood of the worms clumping together (larvae often choke while trying to swallow large balls of worms).

    You may also wish to use a brine shrimp hatchery and hatch your own brine shrimp as a dietary supplement.

    I generally use live foods, but some breeders have reported success with freeze dried cyclops and daphnia – both are certainly worth a try.

    You’ll need to separate out the smaller animals and change the diet a bit as they grow – please be back in touch as time goes on.

    Congratulations and good luck!

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  9. avatar

    Congrats on your eggs! What colors (if any) are you seeing?

  10. avatar

    Hello, The axolotls are all pretty dark, like the adult color of the ones I bought as wild type…dark grey or light black.

  11. avatar

    hi i have been reading all responses to questions and am finding this site very helpful as i am due to receive between 10 and 15 axolotl eggs and it is my first time keeping them i have a 3ft tank set up with 12 small river shimp,very fine sand and some shingle size stone it is heavily planted as i have read they can be canablistic if they havent got the room an wondered if i can get some advise on what changes if any i should make thanks dean

  12. avatar

    Hello Dean, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog and the kind words.

    Heavy planting is the key, better than individual shelters, and with such a large tank cannibalism will be much reduced. Another concern, however, is the fact that hatchlings are not very effective hunters, and need a great deal of food….they usually do best, at first, in small enclosures, where they can be literally surrounded by food. Of course, then the chance of cannibalism is increased – some losses are inevitable. Finely branched suction-cup equipped plastic plants http://www.thatpetplace.com/pet/group/11185/product.web, positioned to fill the water column, or lots of live plants, work well in these situations.

    Chopped blackworms are the best food to start with, and will promote rapid growth. Brine shrimp can be used as a supplement. If you are stocking the live shrimp in hopes of their breeding and supplying a food source, please bear in mind that, while an excellent idea, such will not provide the growing axolotls with sufficient food. Also, as they grow, the salamanders will consume the adult shrimp. However, if the shrimp can hide and do reproduce, they would be an excellent supplementary food source.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  13. avatar

    heeeey i have just got an axolotle
    and i want to know how to tell the differents between female and male im 13 and read all the things i need to know but i dont understand it HELP!! ME PLEASE !!

  14. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Only adult axolotls show a difference between the sexes; juveniles of both sexes are similar in appearance. In adult males, the area around the cloaca (the opening through which waste products pass, at the base of the tail) will show 2 distinct bulges. In females, this area is flat. Adult females are also heavier in build than males, but this is a less reliable method of determining the sex.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  15. avatar

    hi 2 weeks ago one of my axolotls laid a spermatophis and i really want to know how long it will be until they breed my female, safron is getting a little fatter and she is acting a little strange im only 10 and need to know this stuff!!

  16. avatar

    Hi Tyler, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Well, you’re getting an early start as an amphibian breeder – that’s great, keep it up!

    If your male has produced a spermatophore, conditions in your aquarium are probably fine for breeding (sometimes you need to drop the temperature for awhile, and then raise it in order to encourage them to breed). The females may have picked up spermatophores over-night (males usually deposit several) and so may be gravid (gravid – “developing eggs”) right now. If so, the only thing you need to do at this point is add some plastic aquarium plants – the female will lay eggs on these. This will make it easy to remove the eggs. You’ll need to set them up in another aquarium, because the mother and others in the tank will eventually eat them all. On the night they are laid, they will eat some, but that is unavoidable and she will lay a great many.

    It’s almost impossible to raise all the eggs that are laid, so choose a second tank that is of the size you want, and have it on hand, in case eggs are produced. I can give you advice on setting them up and all at that point.

    Sometimes, young males will produce only 1 spermatophore, or the females may not be ready to breed, so don’t be disappointed if you do not get eggs this time. If the female is gravid, no need to give her any special care – unlike many amphibians, gravis axolotls go right on feeding and usually do quite well.

    You might also enjoy Newts and Salamanders, a book I’ve written on the care of axolotls and other salamanders.

    Good luck, enjoy your axolotls and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  17. avatar

    hi,
    thank you sooooooo much for the info it will really come in handy. im pretty sure that safron is able to breed because she is around 18cm and has black tips on her toes she is getting fatter and i will arange another tank. can you please send me some info on how to remove the eggs without hurting them. and i will keep an eye out for your book
    ps. i have got some plastic weed in the corner of the tank.

  18. avatar

    Hello Tyler, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Glad the information was useful to you. You can move the eggs by gently pushing the entire plant into a plastic container (keep lots of plants in the tank, female usually lay several hundred eggs. Some will fall off, others will be stuck to the glass – best to leave those for the adults, or discard them – it’s very difficult to raise many larvae at once, as they need a great deal of live food, every day, while growing. You might be better off just starting out with a dozen or so, depending upon the size of your tank. Its often easier to raise the larvae in plastic sweater boxes, etc. – something that can easily be dumped and re-filled.

    To hatch the eggs, have a container or aquarium ready to go, with aged water and a sponge filter powered by a small air pump. If you decide to raise many, it will be easier to change the water in order to clean; with a few, a filter and partial water changes work well.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  19. avatar

    ok,
    i think im going to pamper the babies so ill get a tank around 60cm long. i will need to go get some more of that plasstic weed caause ive only got two large peices. i have also got a question because im a bit worried about safron. she keeps flotiing around near the top of the tank, do you think there is something wrong with her?

  20. avatar

    Hello Tyler, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Unfortunately, floating is not a good sign. It is usually caused by bacteria inside the axolotl; the bacteria produce gas, which may be why the axolotl looks heavy or swollen. The gas also causes the animal to float. Treatment is very difficult, even by a veterinarian.

    One unusual step that sometimes works is to put the axolotl in a plastic container of water and place the container in a refrigerator at a temperature of about 40 F (4 C). The axolotl’s immune system works well at this temperature, and bacteria do not survive well when it is so cold. Use the axolotl’s regular water in the container, so that it cools slowly. Try this for 4-5 days, then remove the container and let it warm up to room temperature. If the animal floats again, repeat for 1 week. Don’t worry about feeding it during this time, or for the first few days after warming up.

    This does not always work, but is all you can do at home. If you have veterinarian that works on amphibians, a visit would be a good idea.

    Usually this problem occurs when the salamanders are kept at warm temperatures – a cool location is best for their aquarium.

    Sorry for the bad news,

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  21. avatar

    Hi =)

    My Fiancé and I are looking to buy our first pet and are really interested in an Axolotls or two.

    I have been doing some reasearch but serveral sites all contradict each other.

    I would appreciate if you could tell me the basics, i.e. how big they grow, what is the best size tank, temperature/environment for them etc.

    There were two white ones in my local pet shop the other day and when we went back they had gone i was devistated and don’t know where else i can get them from as no-where else seems to sell them.

    Thanks, Becky

  22. avatar

    Hello Becky, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Please check out this 2 Part Article I wrote on axolotl care; I’ve bred axolotls over many generations in zoos and at home and so I think you’ll do fine following the guidelines in the article.

    Please bear in mind, however, that axolotls do best at temperatures below 70F, which is difficult to achieve unless you have a cool basement available; some individual will survive at 75 F, but over time most become ill with bacterial infections and die. A better choice for a first-time amphibian pet would be an African Clawed Frog – they are hady and responsive, will feed from your hand and can be bred at home, and may live for over 20 years. Please write back if you’d like further details.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  23. avatar

    do axolotls like to live in packs and when they get older do thay change colour or are they born in one colour and stay like that for the rest of there lives and finaly what is the avrage life exspectancy of a maxican axolotl

  24. avatar

    o year i forgot do males fight and what and how ofton do you have to feed babies and what size tank do you recon if i am going to have two or three thankyou : )

  25. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Axolotls are not social but will live together if given enough room. Feeding accidents are common however, and in group some will invariably lose toes and gills. These grow back, but infection must be guarded against. Mine have typically lived 12-15 years, with a few reaching 17-18. The published longevity for them is 17 years. Usually they remain the same color as when born. However, leucistic (white with black eyes) specimens that I bred were born dark, almost black, and became white after a few weeks. This is puzzling to me, but I’ve not had the chance to look into how this could happen.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  26. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Males do not fight over females or territory, but both sexes sometimes bite one another when feeding. Newly-hatched young need to eat every day – even when fed a great deal, they tend to be quite cannibalistic. 2-3 adults would require a 20-30 gallon aquarium equipped with a powerful filter.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  27. avatar

    Well I woke up this morning to find my female Sookie and my male Furious in a bed of black eggs!
    They have only been in the tank together for two days and already they’re reproducing, haha.

    I have been reading up all day on how to breed axolotls and the conditions to keep the eggs in. Luckily I have another, smaller tank handy so I have set that up today and will be transferring the eggs over ASAP. I am a little bit nervous about this whole thing though and I am scared that they’ll all die or that the eggs won’t even reach the hatching stage :(
    I will try my best to look after them as well as I can and feed them with the appropriate food. Your blog and feedback in these comments has been super helpful so thank you so much!

    I will keep you posted on how it pans out!

    – Sarah.

  28. avatar

    Hello Sarah, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the feedback and kind words; very glad to hear the news. The eggs are pretty tough, easy to move (people even ship them via Fed Ex!). But be careful, keep them with mild aeration and you should be fine. Remove unhatched eggs, jelly once the young start to emerge; theses will foul the water if left in too long.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  29. avatar

    Hey Frank,

    Well the eggs are all hatched and I have separated the young into a few tanks so it makes water changing, etc. easier.
    Most of them appear to look pretty healthy so far however I am not sure if they are eating? I have a brineshrimp hatchery going and I am putting small amounts of brineshrimp into their tanks for them to eat however it seems that they swim away more from these pools of brineshrimp rather than eat them!
    Are they eating them and it’s just that they are so small that I can’t really see my axolotls eating or do you think there is a bigger problem?

    Oh well, fingers crossed I can work it out and they do eat properly and start to grow. I would hate for them to just stave to death despite my best efforts!

    – Sarah.

  30. avatar

    Hello Sarah, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the feedback and congats! Larvae do not feed for the first few days after hatching (3-4 days); I don’t believe it’s possible to raise them on brine shrimp alone; you can try starting them off on shrimp, but they’ll need live, chopped blackworms in order to grow normally.

    Tubifex are not as good but will suffice if that’s all that is available (be sure to rinse Tubifex them well – not in a kitchen sink, and use gloves; they are usually harvested from sewage-laden waters). Use a razor blade to chop the worms into tiny pieces.

    The larvae will prey upon each other as well – Sounds, harsh, but cannibalism actually fosters very rapid growth, and it’s difficult in any event to raise an entire clutch. You can experiment with Reptomin Select-A-Food as well – some folks have reported success but I’ve had trouble getting them to take non-living foods until they add some size (please let me know if you do try this).

    Add chopped earthworms and guppies as they grow.

    Good, enjoy, luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  31. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    Not sure if you’re still interested but I thought I would let you know how my axolotls are going!
    Well I’m down to 25 now and I think these will be the final ones. They all have their front and back legs through but are still obviously growing. I suppose 25 isn’t so great considering I started with almost 150 but it is my first time trying to do this and it’s hard to stop things like the little ones eating each other!

    Thank you for your tips, I have pretty much been solely feeding them live blackworms for the last 6 weeks or so. I did buy some of the Reptomin food you spoke about and have tried to feed it to them but they haven’t taken to it. Oh well, worms it is then I suppose.

    They’re not really eating each other anymore however I have noticed a couple of tails get shorter overnight so I suppose some nipping is happening. I have them set up in tupperware containers which I water change everyday but as they are getting bigger now I will probably have to look towards a tank and filter for them.

    I will try and get some photos up soon and link to them you as well if you are interested. Even though my final yield of axolotls isn’t that high it has been so fascinating watching them grow! They look so cute right now, haha.

    – Sarah.

  32. avatar

    Hello Sarah, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks so much for the update – not many folks stick with it for as long as you have, I’m very happy to hear you are doing well. Your numbers are actually quite good – even in zoos with tons of room its very difficult to raise any type of salamander larvae; and you’ve certainly topped the wild survival rate as well!

    Blackworms are fine, you can add chopped earthworms if available and guppies on occasion; they need to be pretty hungry before they will sample reptomin. Best to separate out a few for Reptomin trials, so that they don’t consume others as they get hungry. Once they begin they usually stay with it. Trout chow is an inexpensive alternative and its fishy smell stimulates them. Let me know if you need a source.

    Gills, toes and even legs will grow back – for some reason infection is not as much of a concern as with other amphibs. Methylene Blue works well as a preventative med if you see any fungus or sign of nfection. Axolotls are being studied intensely with a view towards regeneration of human bodyparts.

    Kiddie pools with submersible filters are sometimes easier than tanks, depending upon how many you plan to keep through adulthood – let me know if you need more info

    Good luck, enjoy and please be sure to keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  33. avatar

    hi again,

    my jester got really sick and we couldnt save him so he died, we got a new one, Dexter and after 3 months he swallowed a large stone and it killed him. saffy was all alone i was afriad shed be next they never did breed then unexpectedly saffy started turning into a salamander, she couldnt cope with the pressure and died the next night. i am so upset i miss my little gal and guys, i might get some more soon and try again i just need to take time to cool down about it.

    ~Tyler

  34. avatar

    Hello Tyler, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Sorry to hear the bad news. Concerning the animal that had begun to transform into a salamander, you raise an interesting point that often crops up in the pet trade. Mexican axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum) do not transform into a land-dwelling adult form (unless given thyroid injections). What you had was likely the larvae of a Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum)…some will remain as larvae for years (a few desert populations permanently) but eventually the gills shrink and they leave the water.

    They are often sold as “axolotls” but are a different species. Check a few photos of each on line – after looking at several, you should be able to distinguish them. Let me know if you get more of either and we can go over care, ammonia testing (often a cause of death), etc.

    Blockages from swallowing stones are common – often a bare bottom is safest.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  35. avatar

    Him are you by any chance selling eggs? and if so, where ?
    I am in Long Island
    Thanks

  36. avatar

    Hello,

    Thanks for your interest. I do not sell axolotl eggs, but try Michael Shrom shrommj@ptd.net (PA) great guy, very knowledgeable and experienced in shipping eggs.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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