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Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Activity Patterns

Not well known

  • In managed care, some reports of greater activity at night (Gresens 2004; Joseph Boucree, personal communication, 2022)


Olfactory communication

  • Use chemical cues to distinguish the sex of other axolotls, and appear to use odors to detect reproductive status (Park et al. 2004, and as noted)
    • Females perform courtship displays in presence of male odors
      • Males release pheromones during courtship (Maex et al. 2016)
    • Males more active in presence of female spawning odors
    • Also see Courtship behavior

Agonistic Behavior and Defense


  • Seek refuge and decrease activity after detecting a predator (e.g., introduced tilapia) (Alcaraz et al. 2015)
    • Sense predators through smell and additional visual cues

Ecological Role

Trophic position

  • Within their range, occupy high position in food webs (Zambrano et al. 2010a; Zambrano et al. 2010b)
    • Top predator, particularly before fish introduced (Schaffer 1989)

Interspecies Interactions

Relationship with humans

  • See Culture and folklore
    • Axolotls embedded in Mexican history and Latin American identity (Wanderer 2018)
  • Widely used as a research organism for more than 150 years (Smith 1989; Reiß et al. 2015; Wanderer 2018; Reiß 2022)
    • Prominent model organism in developmental and regeneration research (Whiteley and Armstrong 1991; Voss et al. 2009; McCusker and Gardiner 2011; Adamson et al. 2022; Bölük et al. 2022; Echeverri et al. 2022; Reiß 2022)
      • Also cellular and molecular biology, genetics, anti-aging, and cancer research (Newth 1960; Malacinski 1978; Voss and Shaffer 1997; Fei et al. 2018)
      • Also studying vertebrates’ transition from aquatic to terrestrial life (Boisvert et al. 2013; Olejnickova et al. 2022)
    • Used in discoveries related to thyroid hormones, causes of spina bifida, tumor suppression genes, and cell differentiation (Vance 2017)
    • Highly popular for experimental and laboratory studies due to the ease of breeding and rearing (Echeverri et al. 2022)
  • Often kept as aquarium pets (e.g., Coppedge 2004; Reiß et al. 2015; Voss et al. 2015)



  • Adults
    • Eel-like swimming (D’Août and Aerts 1997)
      • Body adapted for maneuverability through lake vegetation, rather than speed
  • Larvae
    • Mobile but mostly benthic (de Jesus Chaparro-Herrera et al. 2011)


  • Usually walk as adults (Gresens 2004)
    • Can also swim

Lake-bottom Bed

Axolotl rests on large rocks

Adult brown axolotl swimming with leg extended

Axolotls in the wild spend much of their time resting on the bottom of lakes and canals.

They occasionally surface to gulp or release air to adjust their buoyancy.

Larvae swim more than adults but are also mostly benthic.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Eel-like Movement

Pink axolotl swimming above rocks

Juvenile and adult axolotls undulate their bodies underwater, similar to eels.

Axolotls move slowly but maneuver through lake vegetation well.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

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