Are Axolotls Nocturnal? (Answered & Explained)

Axolotls are named after Xolotl, the Aztec god of fire and lighting, who disguised himself as a salamander. This small aquatic creature has increasingly become a popular character in online video games, as well as household pets. 

Axolotls, which appear to have a permanent smile, are often not seen swimming about during the day.

Axolotls are nocturnal. They do not have eyelids and therefore are easily startled and shy away from light sources. Axolotls hide at the bottom of water under rocks, in the sand, or vegetation. Floating plants near the surface of the water also give axolotls adequate shade from sunlight. When night arrives, the axolotls become active, hunting for food sources, using their powerful senses of touch and smell.

This article goes on to further describe nocturnal axolotls and what they do during the day and the night.

Nocturnal Axolotls: Habitat

The axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) salamander is a type of gilled and aquatic amphibian that never outgrows its larval appearance.

This means that it does not undergo complete metamorphosis (neoteny). 

This wild species was originally found in the dark bottoms of lakes near Mexico City, and observed near the surface of the waters at night.

Their native habitat offers floating vegetation and plants growing at the water’s bottom. 

This provides opportunities for the axolotl to hide in shallow waters up to 5 feet deep

Wild axolotls are labeled as critically endangered due to urbanization, water pollution, and invasive species such as perch and tilapia.

Axolotls, also known as Mexican walking fish, breed well in captivity, and are increasingly becoming popular as pets (where legal), giving people an insight into their nocturnal activities. 

Axolotls’ ability to regenerate gills, limbs, and parts of their brains and eyes without scarring has been a source of study for scientists.

They are more active in dark and brackish (partially salty) waters. Axolotls often stay near the bottom of their water (or tank) walking and swimming along the bottom. 

When a light is turned on in a tank, the axolotl will move into a dark hiding place.

Water Habits: Day And Night

Generally, axolotls are resting and camouflaged during the day and actively hunting during the night. 

Axolotl Behavior During The Day

During the day, an axolotl is generally inactive, sleeping, and staying still in a hidden spot. They will burrow in mud and aquatic vegetation if they cannot hide underneath a rock or other hiding spot. 

It may be difficult to locate a hiding axolotl since they are easily startled and avoid light, seeking hiding spaces to camouflage in. 

They come in a variety of colors, with the wild-type a tan color with an olive undertone and gold speckles.  

This creature can also alter its color for camouflaging purposes. Like other amphibians, fish, and reptiles, axolotls have melanin-containing chromatophore cells, called melanophores

These smooth muscle cells can change in size and thickness to alter the appearance of the color.

Mutated color variations, often seen in pet axolotls, typically present as:

  • Pale pink (leucistic) with normally colored black eyes
  • Pale pink or white (albino) with red eyes
  • Golden with gold eyes
  • Gray with black eyes
  • Black or dark blue (melanoid)
  • Black and white patches (piebald)

Axolotls Lack Eyelids

If an axolotl is spotted during the day, it may look like it is wide awake with its eyes staring out from its spot. However, they do not have eyelids to cover their eyes.

This lack of eyelids is likely the reason that axolotls do not like artificial or natural light, thus hiding in bright conditions.

An axolotl is likely sleeping if it is not moving and hiding in a dark spot, sheltered from light. 

It may appear as a paler shade of color with a slowed movement of gills.

This video shows an axolotl moving into a hiding place:

Axolotl Behavior During The Night

Even though axolotls are active at night, they do not have night vision. 

Since axolotls originated from dark bottom waters, they did not utilize eyesight in this dark environment. In general, their eyesight is poor, and they rely on their sense of touch and smell to navigate the waters.

During the night, an axolotl is swimming and walking along the bottom as well as coming to the surface, actively searching for food.

Axolotls have lateral line organs on the sides of their heads and along the trunk. These allow them to detect movement and vibrations in the water. 

Combined with a strong sense of smell, these vibrations clue the axolotl into nearby prey such as worms, insects, small fish, brine shrimp, and even other salamanders.

In Conclusion

Axolotls are nocturnal creatures, with dormant behaviors during the day or in lighted conditions. 

They do not have eyelids and seek refuge from lighted conditions by hiding and camouflaging in dark or shaded areas.

At night, axolotls are active, hunting for prey using their lateral line organs to detect movement in the water along with their sense of smell.

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