In the canals beneath Mexico City and in the lake that surrounds it lives the Axolotl or “Water Monster.” It is an ancient race of up to 2 ft long salamander that Aztecs say are the direct descendent’s of Xototl, the dog headed god of Death. I think they look more like pokemon with their cartoonish eyes and mouths and anime style external gills.
In 1998 the waters of Lake Xochimilco held 1500 axolotl per square mile, when surveyed this year it was a mere 25 per square mile. Scientists are now saying this otherworldly creature may only have five years left on the planet before it succumbs to extinction.
“What are axolotl good for?” you might ask. Well, they’re good for a lot of things. First off they’re inherently good. Then their bizarre appearance and gentle nature make them excellent pets. Or excellent tamales. Their soft flesh is apparently delicious and has been part of the Aztec and Mexican diet as long as there have been people there. The locals also make folk medicine with them.
They’re also true freaks. They become sexually mature adults while still in the larval stage, and can remain larval their entire lives. That’s like a race of polliwogs that breed and grow huge and never turn into frogs. This strange condition makes them able to regrow lost limbs, tails, nerve, heart, and brain cells. Science has long utilized these creatures in studies about regeneration, gene therapy, evolution, fertilization and the cures for certain diseases.
If we save the Axolotl we’ll be preserving a cute, delicious, wonder of nature that may be able to cure us of degenerative nerve diseases and make great pets. That should be more then enough reason to get involved.
They seam to be dying do to a combination of water pollution and the introduction of Tilapia to Lake Xochimilco. The Tilapia eat the axolotls eggs and young.
Scientists are rushing to establish Axolotl sanctuaries, most notably around the Isle of Dolls or La Isla de las MuÃ±ecas, so called because it inhabited by an eccentric old man who fishes doll from the lake and hangs them from every part of the island to ward off evil spirits. Could he be the axolotls savior?
If you’re interested in helping save the water monster, don’t eat Mexican Tilapia for starters. I’ve tried to find the organizations setting up the sanctuaries so that we can be more directly involved. If I get their contact info, I’ll post it here so everyone can help. Apparently it’s not easy to set up a wildlife sanctuary by Mexico City.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has put the Axolotl on its critical Red List. The Amphibian Department of the IUCN can be reached at the info below. Please contact them if you’d like to help save the water monster.
Robin Moore, Ph.D
Amphibian Conservation Officer
2011 Crystal Drive, Suite 500
Arlington, VA 22202