Axolotls are unlike any other salamander species on the planet today. They are a surprisingly recent salamander species that evolved from tiger salamanders.
Axolotls are also one of the most critically endangered salamanders on Earth because their natural territory is limited to one lake system in Mexico. So for all intents and purposes, axolotls really only exist in captivity today.
While scientists are always studying axolotls, it is usually to learn more about how they can regenerate nearly any body part, including limbs, gills, and even organs.
For keepers, however, the bigger challenge is to research the right kind of care, including tank setup and food. One common question many new axolotl keepers ask is about whether axolotls eat plants.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about the unique dietary needs of your pet axolotl, which does not include plants.
Do Axolotls Eat Plants: No They Don’t And Here Is Why
Axolotls have a purely carnivorous diet. They only eat animal protein. In fact, the axolotl’s digestive system is set up so your pet can only digest animal protein.
There is nothing in the axolotl’s digestion that supports breaking down and using nutrients from feeding plant matter.
The one exception to this rule is the same exception that applies to all carnivorous species: pre-digested plant matter that may already reside in the stomachs of their live prey.
If your axolotl eats an earthworm, for example, that earthworm is omnivorous and feeds on both plant and animal matter. So the earthworm may still have some plant matter inside it when your axolotl eats it.
In this case, your axolotl will receive the benefit of trace vitamins and minerals in that plant matter, but in a format that is easy to digest. The earthworm has already done the hard work of breaking down their plant lunch into a more digestible format.
Can You Add Live Plants to Your Axolotl’s Aquarium Safely?
This brings up one obvious question many new keepers have – if axolotls get hungry, will they eat live plants if you put them in your aquarium?
The answer is that no, axolotls won’t try to eat live plants even if they get hungry in between feedings. But your axolotl may try to grab and swallow live prey hiding in or sitting on the plants in their aquarium, which can cause choking or suffocation as well as potential toxicity, poisoning, or internal harm.
As this video from a new aquarist and first-time axolotl keeper shows, you can safely add many types of plants to your axolotl’s aquarium. But you have to make sure the plants can grow in the type of aquarium your axolotl needs.
As the keeper points out in this video, plants that require a gravel substrate are not suitable for an axolotl tank. Sand and gravel can cause blockage or impaction because axolotls often feed by snuffling around in the substrate for prey.
One much lesser-known hazard most keepers are unaware of is that some live plants are also carnivorous! As National Geographic reports, many salamanders (axolotls belong to the salamander family of animals) are actually eaten by carnivorous plants every year.
While this is much less of a hazard for axolotls than for most salamanders, since axolotls typically never mature to the point where they transition to life on land, it is still worth factoring in when planning your tank aquaculture.
What Plants Are Safe for Axolotl Aquaculture?
The Axolotl Sanctuary offers a good basic overview of proper aqua-scaping for a pet axolotl.
Just as you want to set up your aquarium to provide the right amount of light, heat, pH, and depth for your axolotl to thrive, so too do you need to take the time to research which plants will do best in that aquatic setting.
Here are some safety tips when choosing plants to go inside your axolotl’s aquarium:
- Select only plants that are not kept or bred together with other animals like fish, crustaceans, or feeder bait.
- Be sure your new plants do not have any small snails clinging to them, as these animals quickly multiple and can take over your tank.
- Sometimes choosing plants that will naturally cling to driftwood is a safer choice (as long as the driftwood is okay for your axolotl’s tank).
- Only choose plants that can live and thrive without the use of any tank chemicals that can be harmful or poisonous to your axolotl.
- Select only plants that are truly fully aquatic and will thrive in the fully underwater setting that your axolotl needs.
- Be sure you know how you can clean your tank after feedings without disturbing the plants and damaging or killing them – sometimes leaving one area bare and using that area for feeding your axolotl makes good sense.
What Happens If Your Axolotl Eats Plants?
Axolotl feeding behaviors are readily triggered by any kind of movement. If anything wiggles or writhes or wiggles or thrashes near to them, your axolotl will open their mouth and bite at it.
There are very few references to axolotls ever trying to eat plants. One Wiki (keeper sourced) site for aquarists states that an axolotl dealing with “extreme hunger” may try to consume plants if no other option exists.
This can sometimes be problematic when you have a good amount of tank flow, as Caudata explains.
Live plants or even fake silk or plastic plants may be fair game if they are waving or moving in the water. Too vigorous flow can disturb and stress your axolotl, so this is definitely something to watch for.
If your axolotl bites live plants
If your axolotl does manage to grasp, bite or swallow a live plant, chances are good they were either attracted by the motion of the plant itself or by the movement of some prey item crawling on the plant.
In this case, experienced keepers say it is unlikely to cause any great harm but you should always monitor your axolotl closely afterward just in case. Sometimes it will cause odd-looking waste. Your axolotl may also just spit the plant back out.
If your axolotl bites fake plants
If your axolotl tries to bite, grab, or swallow a fake plastic or silk plant, you may have more to worry about.
Fake plants can get stuck in your axolotl’s throat or gills and cause intestinal damage if your pet manages to swallow them. They can lodge in the gut and cause impaction or perforation.
However, since axolotls can’t really bite down hard and they certainly can’t chew (their teeth stubs are mainly just for grabbing live prey), the risk of this is relatively low.
The biggest risk comes if your axolotl tries to swallow prey that is moving on a fake plant and manages to swallow both the prey and the fake frond or leaf it is attached to.
If so, you may need to gently extract the swallowed leaf or frond from your axolotl’s throat with your fingers or a pair of tweezers or feeding tongs.
By understanding your axolotls’ unique dietary needs, you can make sure your axolotl fills up on safe, healthy foods and is not tempted to feed in between meals on tank matter or tank mates.
You can also learn how to select beautiful and safe plant life that will peacefully coexist with your axolotl inside their shared aquarium home.