Lifespan of axolotls: are these giant salamanders capable of regenerating body parts on the verge of extinction?

Legend has it that axolotl is the Aztec god of fire and lightning, Xolotl, who disguised himself as a salamander to avoid being sacrificed so the sun and moon could move across the sky.

These subjectively cute and lovable salamanders have quite a fascinating ability, researched by scientists for their regenerative powers. Rising to prominence after appearing in computer games Minecraft and Fortnite, axolotls have also become increasingly popular as pets. Along with pollution and urbanization, these amphibians endemic to Mexico now move on instinct, Live Science reports.

It has also been reported that axolotls, which were commonly killed for food by the Aztecs back then, are still eaten in Mexico today.

Beyond that, axolotls have become one of the most famous salamanders in the world with an extraordinary ability to regenerate body parts, according to BBC Wildlife.

Axolotl Lifespan

Axolotls (mexican ambystoma) are amphibians of Mexico, native to an increasingly small number of canals and lakes. There are more than 30 species of salamanders in the genus Ambystoma, known as mole salamanders, according to the University of California, Berkeley, AmphibiaWeb.

As a surviving species in the only living genus in the Ambystomatidae family, salamanders live an average of 5 to 6 years in captivity, but some have lived up to 17 years, according to the University of Liverpool. The Animal Aging and Longevity Database.

Historically, these carnivores are at the top of the food chain, preying on anything they can catch like molluscs, fish, and arthropods like insects and spiders, and even devouring each other. After courting once a year, it takes about a year for axolotls to become sexually mature. American evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould described adult salamanders as “sexually mature tadpoles” for retaining their juvenile characteristics throughout their lives – an evolutionary phenomenon of “eternal youth” called pedomorphosis or neoteny.

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Why do axolotls disappear?

Axolotls are now considered critically endangered by IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Surveys in 1998 and 2008 revealed that population density had fallen from around 6,000 individuals per square kilometer (0.4 sq mi) to 100 individuals per square kilometer, while around 35 individuals per square kilometer had disappeared during a more recent survey in 2015.

Pollution and poor waste regulation are among the particularly damaging culprits, due to increased tourism in Mexico City. Plastic waste, heavy metals and high levels of ammonia dumped by waste treatment plants clog the channels where the salamanders live. Therefore, the species also suffer from high rates of inbreeding.

The Mexican government, scientists, farmers, and even non-profit organizations are working on how to restore the salamander’s habitat. Several organizations also promote conservation efforts by offering interested tourists the opportunity to see salamanders in their natural habitats.

The salamander’s ability to regenerate has contributed greatly to regenerative research, including the oddity found in axolotl genomes. While their organs and tissues are far more complicated than humans, the findings provide potential regenerative therapies for humans and other medical applications.

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