08 September 2015 | Royal Zoological Society of Scotland News Release
RZSS Edinburgh Zoo has recently become home to two rather unusual looking creatures – the critically endangered axolotl. Also known as a Mexican salamander or a Mexican walking fish, this happy-looking amphibian, with feathery external gills on its head, is facing the threat of extinction with recent data suggesting it might even be extinct in the wild.
The pair of axolotl arrived at the Zoo in July where they first spent some time off-show to allow them to settle in. They can now be seen in the aquariums by the Brilliant Birds Enclosure. The species was listed as critically endangered on the IUCN RED List in 2010, but a four month search in 2013 failed to find any surviving individuals in the wild.
Gareth Bennett, Senior Presenter at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, says: “Axolotl populations are diminishing at an alarming rate due to a number of factors, including increased urbanisation of Mexico which in turn leads to an increase in water pollution and the draining of their natural habitat. These fascinating creatures have also been used extensively in scientific research because of their ability to regenerate limbs. They are probably one of the most scientifically studied salamanders in the world.”
“It is wonderful to be able to have axolotls at the Zoo. We have successfully bred this exceptional species previously and hope to do so again in the future as it is incredibly important to maintain healthy captive populations to ensure they do not become completely extinct. I am particularly fond of them because, as well as being an incredibly intelligent species, they always look as if they are smiling!”
Found only in the lake of Xochimilco, near Mexico City, the axolotl is unusual amongst amphibians because they reach adulthood without metamorphosing. Instead of metamorphosing like other amphibians and taking to land, this rare species remains gilled and prefers to live its whole life in water; this is known as neoteny. One of the axolotl’s most defining characteristics is the branch-like gills which protrude from the neck on either side of the head. The gills are covered in feathery filaments which increase the surface area for gas exchange, this in spite of the fact that they also develop lungs, which are very rudimentary.
The name “axolotl” is thought to have originated from the Aztec word “atl”, meaning water, and “xolotl”, meaning monster. And whilst they might not look very appetising, axolotls formed a staple part of the Aztec’s diet.
Images of the axolotl at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo can be found at the following link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/yk5kda706pdg4r8/AABWQHaXolpR5pC_4CD24bcha?dl=0
These images are free to use; please credit Katie Paton/RZSS.
About RZSS Edinburgh Zoo and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland
- RZSS Edinburgh Zoo is set in 82 acres of sloping parkland, just a stone’s throw away from Edinburgh’s bustling city centre. In its 101 year history the Zoo has been home to many famous animal residents, more recently the UK’s only giant pandas, Tian and Yang Guang, and UK’s only koalas, including the first joey born on British soil in 2013
- RZSS Edinburgh Zoo is owned by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), a registered charity, charity no SC004064
- The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland was founded by visionary lawyer Thomas Gillespie, the Society was set up in 1909 ‘to promote, facilitate and encourage the study of zoology and kindred subjects and to foster and develop amongst the people an interest in and knowledge of animal life’. The Society still exists to connect people with nature and safeguard species from extinction.
- For further information on all our conservation projects and events, please visit our website – edinburghzoo.org.uk
- RZSS Edinburgh Zoo is a member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA). BIAZA represents its member collections and promotes the values of good zoos and aquariums. For further information please telephone 020 7449 6351
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