The Axolotl: a real life Pokémon, powers and all

There is far more to this real life Pokémon than exotic looks. The Axolotl is a very special amphibian.

Native to the region of Xochimilco, near Mexico City, where they historically had a close relationship with humans ever since we settled in the area. The axolotl nourished both the bodies and souls of people from ancient Mexican civilizations, as it was both revered and eaten.

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Axolotls are a type of salamander; they usually measure about 23cm (9in) in length, although some have been found to reach 45cm (18in), and they become sexually mature between the ages of 18 to 24 months. Nonetheless, they are subjects to neoteny; which is to say that axolotls can reach sexual maturity without undergoing a full metamorphosis, imagine if you could hold on to teenage features throughout your life.

As biologist Randal Voss told WIRED, one advantage of neoteny is that “if you don’t undergo this metamorphosis, you’re more likely to reproduce sooner. You’re already one step ahead”.

So, for example, their limbs remain underdeveloped, their tail is rather a caudal fin, and unlike other salamanders or toads, axolotls keep using their gills and stay in the water, in spite of growing lungs. Therefor it is a “perennibranchiate” salamander. The axolotl’s gills are also quite unusual; did you notice the fancy headdress? Well, that is what they use to breathe underwater.

Rarely, some of them do experience metamorphosis. Then, among many changes, it develops eyelids, and it loses the gills.

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Another awesome feature: regeneration. Well, it is not uncommon for amphibians to manage this but axolotls take it further like no other species. They can pretty much regrow any part of their bodies, including spinal cord! And, on top of that, without producing any scar tissue! Professor Stephane Roy, from University of Montreal, has some interesting things to say about this extraordinary capability.

Sad to say, nowadays it may be impossible to find wild axolotls in their natural habitat and they are a critically endangered species. There is hope, though, several organizations are making a conservation effort, maybe someday axolotls could be introduced back in a cleansed habitat and thrive.

Jacobs Jungle did this nice documentary about the beloved axolotl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3e0IqAlK6QM