Axolotl Set Up and Care Guide By Gabi O.
Axolotls are very cool animals that are extremely popular pets. They can reach 10-12 inches and live over 10 years! While they are not extremely high maintenance they do have specific care requirements.
It can seem overwhelming to keep them at first but their care can be broken down into some fairly straightforward components. Here are the 3 keys to a successful axolotl tank setup:
1. Tank Temperature
2. Water Quality
3. Axolotl Health
As long as all 3 are followed you can have a fun exciting pet for 10+ years!
1. Tank Temperature
Axolotls are from high elevations in Mexico where the water stays quite cold. The ideal temperature range is 60-64° F but temperatures up to 71° F can be tolerated provided the water quality is good. Higher temperatures lead to stress and make axolotls more prone to damaging fungal infections which can be difficult to treat and lead to death.
The first step in keeping the tank cool is tank positioning:
- It is best to keep it away from heating vents because they can cause large temperature fluctuations.
- Keep the tank away from direct sunlight. Not only will it raise temperatures, but it will also contribute to algae growth. Axolotls also prefer a more dim environment and will be more active away from bight lights
- Place the tank in a naturally cool part of the house such as a basement.
The second step, once you have picked a good spot for the tank, you will typically need to figure out how to cool the tank further. There are a few methods for cooling tanks which vary in difficulty and cost.
- First option is fans. Essentially what you aim to do with fans is increase the evaporation in the tank in order to cool it, kind of like a swap cooling effect. You will set them up to blow air across the surface of the water and you can add more fans if needed. If your room is already very humid this will not be as effective because only so much water can evaporate into the air. This is the method most people will use to drop their temperature a few degrees. For instance from 70° F down into the 60’s ° F.
- Second option will be much more expensive but also the most consistent way to drop temperatures and that is using a chiller. These are basically fridges for your tank, water runs through them and is cooled to the desired temperature before returning to the tank. Again. This method is the best if you need to drop temperatures a lot or you simply want the peace of mind of a very consistent and reliable cooling method.
- Third option is to freeze water bottles filled with tank water and float them in the tank. You can use smaller water bottles or even 1-2 liter bottles depending on the tanks size. It is best to have several pre-frozen so you can easily swap between them as they melt. Using tank water or dechlorinated tap water is important just in case one leaks into the tank. This is more of an emergency cooling method in the event your a/c goes out or it is simply a very hot week in August and your tank can't stay cool enough. It is very effective but it can be hard to monitor how cold it is getting and there will be temperature fluctuations as you change out bottles which is not ideal long term.
Overall there are some good ways to keep your axolotl nice and chilly which in turn will keep them happy and healthy!
2. Water Quality
Axolotls are amphibians which means their skin is very delicate and in addition to that their gills (which are basically their lungs) are very vulnerable on the outside of their body. Both of these things mean that any water pollution has a much larger impact on them than it does most of our aquatic animals. Here are the basic water parameters needed for axolotls:
Achieving proper water quality starts before you ever get an axolotl with three main components;
Decide on a tank size.
- The minimum tank size is a 20 gallon long. This is large enough for 1-2 axolotls.
- Keep in mind the smaller the tank the more frequently you will need to do water change and the more quickly waste can become toxic.
- For beginners it is often recommended to go for a 40 gallon breeder in order to have an easier time with care. The smaller your volume of water the more impact any small change will have.
Decide on a filter type. You have a few options for filters with axolotls
- The most basic option is a sponge filter like these. They are very easy to set up and because they don't produce a lot of flow they are good for axolotls. However they are not the strongest filters and may require more frequent maintenance.
- Next you have hang on back filters like the Seachem Tidal. They are very effective and the flow can be adjusted down so it does not disturb the axolotls. It is recommended to cover the intake with a sponge so axolotls don't get stuck to them. These filters have a lot of room for different filtration options that can help keep the tank clean.
- Finally you can use a canister filter. These are larger filters that sit outside of the tank. They have the most room for all types of filtration media. The one potential downside is making sure you pick one that will not have too much flow for the axolotl but once you pick an appropriately sized filter they are the most efficient.
Now that the tank is setup you have reached the most important step: The tank MUST be cycled without fish before an axolotl can go into the tank.
- Fishless tank cycling is the process by which we establish a beneficial bacterial population that will process the toxic ammonia and nitrite produced by our animals into a more safe byproduct of nitrates.
- Here is a guide on how cycling the tank will typically go.
- You can expect this process to take between 2-6 weeks. During this time you will be testing the water to determine if the 'cycle' has completed. (this is a great time to figure out keeping the tank temperature stable as well!)
- The tank needs to go through this process regardless of the tank size and filter you chose.
- Once the cycle is complete you are ready for your axolotl(s)!
After the initial set up you will use water changes in order to keep the tank clean. Here are the basic things to do:
- Every couple days you should remove any uneaten food as well as larger pieces of waste. The more frequently you spot clean this waste the less often you need to do large changes.
- Once a week test your water with your test kit. If your nitrates are above 20ppm you should do a 50% partial water change. If the nitrates are above 40ppm do the 50% water change and check again in a few days. If it is still high continue doing partial water changes every few days until it is lowered.
- When you do water changes, check the filters and clean them if needed. Never clean biological filtration in anything but tank water. Filter pads are ok to rinse in tap water.
- At least once a month even if nitrates are low do a 50% water change to replace essential minerals in the water.
- Any tap water that goes into the tank should be dechlorinated with Seachem Prime before going into the tank.
3. Axolotl Health
A final important part of axolotl care is maintaining good health for them beyond keeping them in a clean, cool environment. There are a few keys to this as well; Cohabitation with other animals, feeding, and disease treatment/prevention.
We do not recommend keeping any animals with axolotls except other axolotls.
When cohabitating axolotls you need to be aware of a couple things.
- Young axolotls are very opportunistic and will eat each other's legs if they get the chance. Fortunately they can regrow legs but it is better if they don't have to! To prevent this either keep little axolotls apart or make sure to provide lots of hiding places so they can escape each other. Keeping them well fed will also help reduce this as well.
- Only keep axolotls of the same size together. In the same way babies will nibble on each other, a larger axolotl will see a baby as a tasty snack.
- If you end up with a male and female axolotl as adults you may end up seeing eggs. You may need to separate the pair to prevent them from overbreeding. You can either divide a larger tank or have two tanks to achieve this.
There are several good food choices
- An ideal staple for axolotls are axolotls pellets such as these from sustainable aquatics.
- Live nightcrawler worms are also a good staple for axolotls. Other worms such as black worms are good to feed as well.
- Frozen blood worms are a great food to offer in addition to other foods but should not be the main part of their diet
- You can also add live ghost shrimp for the axolotls to hunt on occasion as a treat.
The first step in treating diseases is preventing them in the first place. By following the recommendations in this guide you will very rarely run into diseases but if you do there are a couple safe treatments.
Fungal infections can be prevented with clean, cold water. if your axolotl does get a fungal infection you can treat it in a couple of ways
- Adding tannins to the water through alder cones or Indian almond leaves. This will tint your water yellow but that is totally safe and natural. Tannins act as a natural anti fungal medication.
- Adding salt to the water. About (1) tablespoon of salt per 10 gallons of water should help with minor fungal infections.
- Antifungal medications are effective for more severe infections but it is best if you can catch it before it gets to that level.
Impaction is a common but easily prevented problem.
- If your axolotl is under 5 inches keep its tank bare bottom with no substrate at all.
- Once it is over 5 inches you can add very fine sand but it is recommended to use a plate or tong feed them so that they are less likely to ingest the sand while eating.
- NEVER use gravel or any rocks small enough to be eaten in the tank. Axolotls are not the best at telling what is food and what isn't and a piece of gravel can be deadly for them.