|Image: Stephen Dalton|
Unless they're one of those freakish mutant Axolotls who become grown-ups. Ewwww!
Axolotls reach adulthood after about 2 years, at which point they'll be about 30 cm (12 in) long. They retain 3 pairs of frilly gills for breathing in water and a fin on their tail for swimming. Even the babies have legs and adults are no different, but these limbs remain thin, weak and inappropriate for life on land. It's all fine of course, because Axolotls don't move out from fresh waters.
They also come in a range of colours to suit your handbag, tie or socks. There are black ones, white ones, brown ones, mottled ones and ones with a golden sheen. That last one for the tasteless dictator in you, perhaps.
This little trooper faces a host of challenges in Mexico, their only native habitat. Today they exist only in a greatly diminished and polluted Lake Xochimilco. Other water bodies they once lived in have been drained in an effort to stop flooding, a process that began with the Aztecs. The future looks quite bleak, with new, non-native fish competitors and nearby Mexico City's (population 9 or 21 million depending on your "city" definitions) increasing demands.
It seems likely that the day will come when only captive bred Axolotls remain. These are popular not only in the pet trade but also the lab. You see, Axolotls have absolutely amazing regeneration abilities. They can regrow entire limbs and even spinal and brain tissue. A whole leg can be regrown in a few weeks without a hint of scarring! It's hoped we will one day learn to do the same in hospital, with huge ramifications for healthcare and extreme sports.
We must be glad to have discovered all this before we wiped them out forever. Soon we'll be lopping off each other's limbs without a care in the world, all thanks to an overgrown baby salamander with a goofy grin.
|Image: brian.gratwicke via Flickr|