Axolotls are incredibly unique animals in every way. For starters, the axolotl is found in only one place in the entire world – in a lake near Mexico City, Mexico.
The axolotl is also the only salamander species that never actually grow out of its juvenile stage. Instead of walking out of the water in adulthood to live the rest of their life on land, the axolotl stays in the water.
And even another way the axolotl is unique is that this species is able to regenerate (grow back) nearly any part of its body, making the axolotl the target of many biology studies.
Unfortunately, as Scientific American points out, yet another way the axolotl is unique is how fast this species is becoming extinct in the wild.
Luckily, you have decided to keep an axolotl as a pet. You may even want to breed your axolotl one day. So it is very important to learn all you can about what to feed your axolotl. Can axolotls eat vegetables is a common question many new keepers ask.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about axolotls and vegetables and the axolotl digestive system.
Watch a Young Adult Axolotl Eating Animal Protein
In this short video, you can watch a young adult axolotl named Darwin eating his meal of brine shrimp and bloodworms.
The keeper uses a unique feeding method featuring a turkey baster that keeps the water a lot cleaner as well.
Can Axolotls Eat Vegetables?
Axolotls come straight out of the egg with a need for pure animal protein. This never changes during the axolotl lifespan, which can be as long as 17 years by some accounts.
When an axolotl is a baby or young juvenile, live prey foods like baby brine shrimp, bloodworms, dahlia, micro-worms, blackworms, and, later, brine shrimp (adults) are staple foods.
As your axolotl grows up, the need for live food lessens but the need for protein does not.
Aztec Axolotls states that whole protein sources like earthworms (red wigglers) and nightcrawlers are the great proteins for adult axolotls.
Brine shrimp, bloodworms, blackworms, ghost shrimp, brine shrimp, and also nutritionally-balanced sinking fishmeal pellets are good supplements to a steady diet of earthworms and nightcrawlers.
But what place do vegetables have in the diet of a species that is designed to eat only protein?
In a wild setting, the only vegetables a wild axolotl would ever encounter would probably be if they ate an insect or animal that had eaten vegetables or plant matter.
In this way, nearly all carnivorous animal species will ingest some vegetable matter because of many predator species hunt herbivores (vegetarian species).
Axolotls are no different. For example, according to the Earthworm Society of Great Britain, earthworms, the axolotl’s staple adult food source, eat organic matter including dead grass, leaves, fruits, fungi, decaying matter, and dirt.
When your axolotl eats an earthworm, they are also eating some vegetable matter that is still digesting in the earthworm’s stomach, as the Caudata axolotl owners forum attests.
But this is still not the same as eating true vegetables. While the occasional unconventional axolotl owner may try to feed their axolotl vegetables, this approach isn’t biologically sound given everything researchers know about the axolotl gut.
2 Creative Ways to Add Vegetables to Axolotl Diet
There are two creative ways you can add vegetables to the diet of your pet axolotl.
Both of these ways are actually nutritionally sound and can also have other health benefits for a captive-bred pet axolotl.
1. Buy gut-loaded prey insects or worms
As the book Laboratory Animal Medicine points out, it is perfectly fine to feed axolotls gut-loaded protein sources like insects, worms, brine shrimp, and other animal prey.
“Gut-loading” is a term that means to feed the prey and pack their digestive tract with nutrients.
Here is an example. Crickets are a fun treat food that many axolotl keepers offer to their adult axolotls for enrichment. Crickets, like people, are omnivorous. They eat a diet of plant matter and animal protein.
When cricket is pre-fed a nutrient-rich diet before you offer it to your axolotl, your axolotl gets the pure protein plus the extra added benefit of the vegetable matter the cricket is still digesting.
This is a frequent practice with many prey worm species as well. Many pelleted foods designed for axolotls will also have some amount of added vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from plant matter added.
2. Incorporate decaying composted plant matter into your worm breeding habitat
Another creative way to add some vegetable nutrients to your axolotl’s diet is to breed your own earthworms or nightcrawlers in a compost-type earth mixture. You can add banana peels, potato peels, melon rinds, past-date fruits and vegetables, and other organic matter that the earthworms will eat.
Then you can feed the earthworms to your axolotl and your pet will get the benefit of the additional vitamins and trace minerals from the dirt and the organic matter in the earthworm’s stomach.
What Will Happen If You Feed Axolotl Vegetables?
As this research study from Liverpool John Moores University outlines, even varying protein sources too much can cause problems with growth and development in captive axolotls.
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association points out that imbalances and toxicity in tank water, ingestion of foreign bodies (such as dirt or gravel) and exposure to live prey that may have parasites can all cause dangerous health issues for axolotls.
While baby and young juvenile axolotls require live prey to stimulate the mouth snapping motion of feeding, only certain types of live prey should be used to minimize exposure to parasites.
Older, bigger, stronger juveniles and adult axolotls should only be fed safely-sourced live prey like earthworms and nightcrawlers and the other safe foods mentioned here earlier for the same reason.
Exposure to any live organic foods, including vegetables, introduces a greater risk of parasites and foreign objects like dirt and gravel that can cause impaction, illness, and death in captive axolotls.
Underfed axolotls may also resort to eating inappropriate items like foreign bodies and gravel, other axolotls, live fish, and other tank mates and plant matter with dangerous health results.
Axolotls are often described as being easy to care for. However, axolotls are actually very sensitive to even the slightest changes in their environment, including water pH, temperature, light, decaying uneaten prey matter, and the addition of new tank mates.
Any of these issues can cause an axolotl to stop eating and to suffer health-wise.
Signs Your Axolotl Needs Health Attention
Animals in Schools explains some of the main health warning signs that your axolotl may need healthcare from a trained exotic species veterinarian.
- Appetite loss
- Change in color
- Lesions on the skin
- Yellowing (jaundice)
- Floating sideways (air or foreign body ingestion)
- Gill problems
- Balance issues
- Deformities to the back
An axolotl that is not receiving a nutritionally whole and complete diet of pure animal protein (gut-loaded or not) may exhibit some or all of these health issues.
Because axolotls do the majority of their growing up within the first six months of life, feeding the correct carnivorous diet right from hatching is a critical part of keeping a healthy pet.
It is always smart to find an experienced keeper or breeder to talk with when you have questions about how to feed your axolotl