Axolotl makes stop in southern WV

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

My son bought a stuffed animal at a festival this summer which he named “Axie,” short for the creature’s official name, axolotl (pronounced AX-oh-lot-ul). The salamander-like animal had pink skin, wavy fins around its head, and a permanent smile on its face. Honest to goodness, I thought it was a mythical creature from some video he found on YouTube.

You can imagine my surprise when we visited the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery (operated by the US Fish & Wildlife Service) last week…where they have an actual axolotl in an educational display.

“I told you they were real, daddy,” said my son with a loaded grin. It turns out axolotls are very real…and in real trouble worldwide.

Popularized by Minecraft and TikTok, axolotls are critically-endangered amphibians native to Mexico. They’ve existed for some 10,000 years and originated in Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco on the outskirts of Mexico City.

Axolotls lack closeable lids on their eyes and have permanent “smiles.” Their external gills allow them to breath and can be lost if allowed to live in poor water conditions. Photo by RealWV.

They can live for up to 15 years, grow to 18 inches, and weigh up to 8 ounces.

Known as “water dogs” by the Aztec people, axolotls are salamanders. The tiger salamander is its closest living relative.

Staff at the fish hatchery explained to us that although they have become popular pets, they are very difficult to care for. They don’t see well, and they require very specific water conditions which are hard to regulate at home by people who are not professionals. If axolotls are not properly cared for, their gills will fall off.

Interestingly, they do have the ability to regrow limbs, organs, and their spine up to five times! And they are far more resistant to cancer than other mammals. You can therefore imagine why they are critically endangered. Conservationists say protecting them is a top priority. My son agrees.

The fish hatchery uses axolotls not only for educational purposes but also for mussel propagation. Staff said they don’t expect “Axie” to be on the premises long, as it will be moving to a new location soon.

If you want to visit the axolotl, in addition to the hatchery’s other educational displays, you can stop by the visitor’s center on Route 60 in White Sulphur Springs from 8am-3pm on weekdays.

The White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery is run by the USFWS. They currently have an educational display with an axolotl to teach local residents about the importance of the salamanders. Photo by RealWV.
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