Location: Lake Xochimilco, underlying Mexico City
The remarakable axolotl is part of the family of ‘mole salamanders’, but exhibits an unusual and extreme trait known as neoteny, or paedomorphosis. This is the retention of larval stage characteristics throughout life, so axolotls usually never fully resemble an adult salamander. Unlike other amphibians, most axolotl fail to metamorphose, living permanently in water. Although it does develop lungs, the axolotl’s most bizarre feature is its retention of its branch-like gills.
Although there are large numbers of axolotls in captivity around the world, particularly in biomedical and physiological research laboratories, numbers of wild axolotls are very low. Previously, capture of this species for the international pet and research trade contributed to population declines, but the axolotl now breeds well in captivity, alleviating this threat. It was also captured for consumption by local people, although numbers are now too low for this. The most significant threat to the axolotl is the increasing pollution of the lakes and canal system as Mexico City continues to grow. Land drainage, flood control and sewage disposal methods from the 17th century to the present have all contributed to the destruction of the water system of Mexico City.
The axolotl population is difficult to assess, but recent surveys covering its known distribution range have found fewer than 100 individuals. The recent stabilization of axolotl numbers may be attributable to the restoration of the Parco Ecologico Xochimilco over the last 20 years. This protected area requires continued restoration to support the axolotl population, which, it is hoped, may begin to increase with the introduction of captive-bred axolotls.
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