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AXOLOTL (Ambystoma mexicanum)
Sometimes known as “walking fish”, these relatives of the tiger salamander are actually amphibians and their development, physiology and mythology all add to their quirky reputation. Known for their unusual life cycles, these neotenic organisms, instead of proceeding through metamorphosis and walking on land, usually retain their gills, remaining aquatic in their semi-larval stage. In addition, there may be some connection between development and life span, as individuals which do eventually metamorphose into adult forms may live for less than half the average life span. They are of further scientific importance due to their ability to regenerate their limbs, tails and some organ and body tissue.
The axolotl has been wrapped in the myths and legends of Mexico for eons- its name coming from its Aztec root, Xolotl, meaning "water dog". According to legend, this dog-headed soul guide to the underworld was the brother of his feathered twin, Quetzalcoatl and transformed from human to dog form to escape sacrifice.
Due to habitat loss and other threats, there only around 1000 axolotls left in the wild and they are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN list of endangered species. They are sometimes kept as unique pets- captive breeding can in fact help wild populations as it can raise awareness of their unusual characteristics and fragile status. Find out more about the axolotl from the National Geographic >>
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