Mexico’s axolotl, a salamander-like creature, apparently hasn’t disappeared from its only known natural habitat in Mexico City’s few remaining lakes.
Researchers say they have sighted, but not caught, two of the slippery little amphibians during a second effort to find them.
A weekslong effort last year by researchers trying to net axolotls in the shallow, muddy waters of Xochimilco lake found none, raising fears that they might only now survive in captivity.
But biologist Armando Tovar Garza of Mexico’s National Autonomous University said members of the team carrying out the search had seen two axolotls during the first three weeks of a second survey.
“We weren’t able to capture them … because the behavior of the axolotl makes them very difficult to capture,” Tovar Garza said. “We haven’t had any captures, but we have had two sightings.”
The axolotl is best known for its feather-like gills, a mouth that curls into an odd smile and its ability to regenerate severed limbs. In Mexico, the locals call it the “water monster” and the “Mexican walking fish.” It’s only natural habitat is the Xochimilco network of lakes and canals. These “floating gardens” of earth piled on reed mats were built by the Aztecs. Now they water system is suffering from pollution, urban sprawl and invasive species.
Some axolotls still survive in aquariums, water tanks and research labs, but experts said those conditions aren’t the best, because of interbreeding and other risks. How about letting some of those aquarium-bound axolotl’s go? Scientists fear releasing captive-bred axolotls into the wild could spread a fungus infection many captive axolotls carry.
Helping out: Alarmed by the creature’s falling numbers in recent years, researchers built axolotl “shelters” in Xochimilco to help them breed in the cleanest part of their remaining habitat.
Sacks of rocks and reedy plants act as filters around a selected area, and cleaner water is pumped in, to create better conditions. The shelters also include permeable cages and other devices intended to help protect axolotls from non-native carp and tilapia that were introduced to the lake system years ago and compete with axolotls for food.
Growing up to a foot long, axolotls use four stubby legs to drag themselves along the bottom or thick tails to swim in Xochimilco’s murky channels while feeding on aquatic insects, small fish and crustaceans. But the surrounding garden-islands have increasingly been converted to illicit shantytowns, with untreated sewage often running off into the water.
Reported by TERESA DE MIGUEL of the Associated Press from MEXICO CITY, Mexico.Read More