To save the Axolotl, experts warn that what’s really needed is habitat restoration

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The axolotl, Ambystoma mexicanum, is a paedomorphic salamander related to the tiger salamander. The species was originally found in several lakes, such as Lake Xochimilco underlying Mexico City. Axolotls are unusual among amphibians in that they reach adulthood without undergoing metamorphosis

In Mexico City’s trendy Roma neighborhood, Monstruo de Agua’s patio hums with young people chatting over smoked avocado ceviche, tempura mushrooms, and craft beers. Each beer at the microbrewery bears a label with an image of the quirky axolotl, complete with its crown of feather-like gills.

The brewery chose the critically endangered salamander as its mascot in the hopes of boosting awareness among the Mexican public, says founder Matías Vera-Cruz Dutrenit. “If our product is good, it can act as a good ambassador to the animal,” he says.

Named after the Aztec god of fire and lightning, Xolotl, the axolotl has been an important symbol of Mexican culture for centuries. Monstruo del Agua means “water monster,” which is the Spanish translation of the word axolotl from Nahuatl, the language of the ancient Aztecs.

Once widespread throughout the high-altitude lakes surrounding Mexico City, these foot-long amphibians are now limited to only a few inland canals near Lake Xochimilco, where only between 50 and a thousand survive. This precariously small population faces a barrage of threats: water pollution; predation by invasive carp and tilapia; and most significantly, habitat loss.

As the salamander has declined over the past decade, public awareness about the axolotl has blossomed. Axolotls are now characters in the online game Minecraft and on the global game platform Roblox. The new 50 peso, released in late 2021, features the axolotl as its cover model

Axolotls—normally brown or gray in the wild—have also become extremely popular as pets, which are usually white with pink highlights, a genetic mutation caused by captive breeding.

The salamander can regrow lost or damaged limbs, hearts, spinal cords, and even parts of their brains. Likewise, Dutrenit says, his company uses regenerative farming practices for its native ingredients, such as agave and amaranth. This includes using polyculture—or growing more than one crop at a time, a practice that improves soil quality.

Lastly, the company is committed to sustainability. This includes using rainwater in beer production and transporting goods by bicycle, all meant to lessen the human impact on Mexico City’s environment, including the axolotl’s Xochimilco habitat.

With information from Mile

Mexico Daily Post