Axolotls are a unique type of salamander native only to a special lake system just outside of Mexico City, Mexico. Axolotls are very endangered in the wild, but in captivity, they are becoming quite popular.
Unlike other salamander species, axolotls are completely aquatic both as juveniles and in adulthood. They never lose their gorgeous feathery exterior gills or their long tadpole-like tails.
Their wide faces and enormous mouths contain stumpy teeth nubs that are used to grab live prey and hold it as the axolotl swallows it whole. Axolotls don’t see very well and often need help finding their prey in captivity.
While there are many different types of live prey such as worms that are relatively easy to find in local pet stores, not all types are good for axolotls. The question we will be looking at in this article is whether axolotls can eat butterworms.
What Are Butterworms?
Butterworms are actually larval (caterpillar) forms of Chilean moths, as Josh’s Frogs explains.
Butterworms reportedly has a somewhat sweet smell and are high in both fat and calcium as well as protein.
It is the calcium and protein content that makes butterworms an appropriate choice for an occasional treat food for your axolotl. Calcium is an important nutrient for axolotls. And axolotls are carnivorous, which means protein is their main nutrient.
One advantage of keeping butterworms as an occasional treat for your axolotl is that they keep very well on the door of the refrigerator for several months and don’t need any maintenance or food.
As Caudata highlights, it is fine to feed butterworms as a treat every two to four weeks.
Do Butterworms Offer Good Nutrition for Axolotls?
Anderson Axolittles breeder recommends offering butterworms as a treat food only for axolotls.
As Mulberry Farms outlines, butterworms offer the following basic nutritional profile:
- Fat: 5.2 percent
- Calcium: 42.9 percent
- Protein: 16.2 percent
- Moisture: 58.5 percent
The calcium content is double what most live prey can offer, which justifies adding butterworms to your adult axolotl’s treat food rotation at least monthly.
However, as long as you are offering earthworms or nightcrawlers as the primary food source for an adult axolotl, it is not necessary to offer butterworms unless your exotic veterinarian advises you otherwise.
If you ever run into trouble finding your regular axolotl food, you can also feed butterworms for a very short time as a food source because these worms are high in calcium and protein.
For the same reason, however, it is always good to keep some frozen bloodworms and a pelleted food on hand just in case. Butterworms are never going to provide an optimal nutrient source for axolotls, but they are better than no food at all!
What Is the Best Diet for Axolotls?
The best diet for any pet is always going to be the diet that comes closest to what that animal would eat in the wild.
As Reptiles Magazine explains, the best diet for axolotls is either safe live prey that is parasite-free and nutritionally appropriate or pelleted food.
The best live prey food sources for axolotls are as follows:
- Baby too young juvenile axolotl: daphnia, bloodworm, blackworm, brine shrimp.
- Older juvenile to adult axolotl: earthworms, nightcrawlers.
In fact, nightcrawlers and earthworms are widely regarded as being such a complete food source for adult axolotls that you can feed only these and never need to supplement with any nutrients, vitamins, or minerals.
Treat foods can be an important part of enrichment in captivity for axolotls. But treat foods don’t have the same nutritional composition to safely be fed daily.
In other words, just like people shouldn’t eat potato chips as their only food source, axolotls should not eat treat foods like butterworms as their sole food source. But it is fine to offer butterworms as an occasional treat food to enrich your axolotl’s life.
How to Feed Axolotls Butterworms?
Axolotls don’t have teeth to chew their prey. And they don’t have great vision. The main methods that axolotls use to detect and hunt prey are by scent and by looking for big movements like swimming or wriggling.
Even in adulthood, when axolotls can easily measure anywhere from nine to 17 inches long, they often still struggle to grasp and swallow large worms such as earthworms and nightcrawlers.
When axolotls are babies and measure less than one-half inch, only the tiniest bloodworms or daphnia are even small enough for them to grasp and swallow.
As you can see in this YouTube video by an axolotl keeper, you may need to use tongs to help your axolotls detect and swallow their dinner.
You can grasp the worm with tongs and wiggle it in front of your axolotl to get their attention and trigger them to open their mouth and grab the prey to swallow it.
Some keepers like to simply drop the butterworms into the tank right near their axolotl and let the butterworm float down and catch their axolotl’s attention.
However, if your axolotl does not see the butterworm float past for some reason, you will probably have to reach in with feeding tongs and wriggle it in front of your axolotl to initiate the feeding behavior and get your pet to swallow the treat.
How Big Are Butterworms for Axolotls?
As Mulberry Farms explains, the butterworm is a plump, smooth, soft-bodied worm that can range in size from one-half inch to 1.25 inches long.
Animal Diversity explains that a single axolotl can produce up to 300 eggs. Each egg maybe only 0.07 inches long.
It takes the baby axolotl up to six months to grow even as long as six inches. An adult axolotl may take up to two years to grow to their full adult size of nine to 17 inches long.
This means it is important not to feed your axolotl a prey food that is bigger than what your pet can safely swallow. Even very small butterworms, served whole, will only be a suitable treat food for an adult axolotl.
You can serve small pieces of butterworms to older adolescent axolotls as an occasional treat, especially if your axolotl is underweight. Otherwise, it is best to wait until your axolotl has become an adult to feed butterworms at all.
Are Butterworms Safe for Axolotls to Eat?
Unlike some feeder prey like mealworms and superworms, butterworms are soft-bodied and are relatively easy for adult axolotls to grasp and swallow.
Butterworms pose much less of a risk for choking or intestinal blockage than chitinous worms like mealworms and they also offer more calcium than most treats live prey foods.
But butterworms can still pose a risk to your axolotl on three levels:
- If you feed a larger butterworm whole that your axolotl is not able to easily grasp and swallow.
- If you feed butterworms too often and your axolotl becomes overweight and nutritionally imbalanced as a result.
- If you feed butterworms that are improperly bred and are carriers for parasites, bacteria, or fungi that can cause illness in your axolotl.
It is smart to supervise feedings and ensure your axolotl does not run into trouble swallowing their food. Sometimes food can also get trapped in the axolotl’s unique external gill system and you may need to move quickly to extract it.
By understanding how butterworms fit into your axolotl’s diet, you can safely offer these tasty treats to your pet.