The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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There are very few animals that are as fascinating as the axolotl. These neotenic animals have been the subject of scientific research, fascination, and adoration for as long as they have been known due to their unique appearance and the fact that they never leave the larval stage of life.
Closely related to the tiger salamander, the larvae of tiger salamanders and young axolotls are nearly identical except for one clear difference: the axolotl will almost never metamorphose into the land salamander that the tiger salamander does.
This is what it means to be neotenic, to achieve sexual maturity and be able to reproduce while still being in a larval life stage.
Axolotls are interesting creatures to keep as pets because of this fact, but it is important to note that keeping them as a pet is a high-maintenance job. Your goal as a pet owner is to provide an environment as close to their wild habitat as possible, so it is important that you have a good understanding of where axolotls come from.
These curious creatures are native to a single lake in Mexico (Lake Xochimilco) and are not found in the wild anywhere else besides this. They used to be native to another lake, but that lake has since been filled and repurposed for other uses.
As you can imagine, they have extremely strict requirements for their tanks, including a low temperature of water, filtration that does not move the water, and specific water measurements.
It can be somewhat difficult to keep them healthy and thriving because of this and they are not recommended for people who are not used to housing high-maintenance aquatic animals for this reason.
With the idea that you will want to provide as close to a natural environment as you can for your axolotls, you might begin to wonder whether or not you could house them in a pond outside of your house, as this would more closely resemble what their natural habitat is in the wild.
The answer to this question is a complicated one. Technically, if you could keep the pond at the requirements that an axolotl needs its habitat at, it is theoretically possible for them to live in a pond outside.
The problem is maintaining that pond and keeping it safe for axolotls.
If you are willing to put forth the dedication, equipment, and time to keep an outdoor pond for axolotls at the required levels, your axolotls could thrive in an environment replicating their wild ones.
However, if you are unable to provide those resources to keep a pond environment stable, it may be more optimal to keep them in a tank enclosure instead.
To understand the level of dedication needed, you first need to understand what kind of requirements you would be looking at if you were to create an outdoor pond for your axolotl.
Creating the Pond Environment Fit for an Axolotl
Axolotls, being high-maintenance aquatic animals, will need a lot from their pond environment. It will first take some consideration to make sure that your property can even house an axolotl pond before you begin working on creating it.
First things first, you need to consider the water temperature. Axolotls require a fairly cold water temperature reminiscent of their underground lake that their natural habitat is at.
An axolotl’s water temperature should range between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 15 to 18 degrees Celsius. If you live somewhere that has hot summers or frozen winters, this may mean that an outdoor pond is not going to be able to sustain those temperatures without outside intervention (heaters, shade, and so on).
This means that the optimal climate to create an axolotl pond is going to be a place that has both mild summers and winters to ensure that the seasonal temperature changes aren’t going to be too hard on your axolotl’s body, as temperature changes are going to be a major source of stress.
If you have the resources, you can consider investing in other means of keeping the pond at the proper temperature, but remember that trying to change the temperature of an outdoor body of water is significantly more difficult and energy-consuming than maintaining the temperature of an indoor body of water.
Axolotls are also sensitive and weak creatures. Despite being fully aquatic animals, they have very little swimming power as they mostly push themselves around the bottom of their environment’s floor.
This means that if the pond you build has a strong current to it, your axolotls are not going to be able to fight that current and will become incredibly stressed out because of it. A pond for an axolotl needs to be completely still so that the axolotls can freely move about.
For most people, this isn’t going to be a problem, but if your area is prone to strong gusts of wind that might move the water, or if you are unable to create a pond with still water, this might mean that keeping your axolotls inside is better for both you and them.
There is a chance that if gusts of wind are only occasional, or if they only happen during a certain portion of the year, you can find measures to protect the pond from the wind.
Finally, you need to consider the possibility of predators. In their native habitat, because their main lake is underground, axolotls have very few predators.
This changes when you bring axolotls to your property. Most animals that eat meat, especially fish, are going to be curious about the axolotls and whether or not they would be prey animals, and unfortunately, axolotls have virtually no defense against predators as they have never needed to evolve to protect themselves in such a manner.
If you live in an area that has meat-eating predators that have easy access to your yard (consider raccoons, foxes, bears, and birds of prey), you have two choices that you can choose from.
You can either invest in pond-defense systems, which are common motion-activated water guns to deter animals that get close to the pond or netting above the pond to prevent animals from reaching in to grab the axolotls out, or you can choose to house your axolotl inside.
Investing in pond defense may be expensive, depending on the size of the pond you are building and the amount of space you have, but will allow your axolotls to live outside.
What About Fish Ponds?
If you already have a pond for fish set up in your backyard, you might think that you can get away with simply putting the axolotl into that. The general consensus is that you should avoid putting your axolotl into fish ponds, and there are a few reasons for this aside from the temperature requirements that are already mentioned.
If your fish pond is for fish such as koi, you are going to have a problem. Koi fish are notorious for being strong and aggressive swimmers, and they may take a liking to your axolotls’ frilly gills on its head, leading to injury at best and death at worst.
If your fish pond is for smaller, more docile fish, your axolotl will likely thrive, and a little bit too well. Axolotls are carnivorous, and they will eat any fish that is smaller than their mouths meaning that the fish pond you set up for the smaller fish will no longer have any fish in it by the time your axolotl has gotten used to being there.