Axolotls are certainly fascinating creatures and will provide hours of entertainment as they roam about in their tank. But what about outside of it; can they breathe when out of water and is it even safe to take them out? As an owner or prospective owner, here is what you must know.
So, can Axolotls breathe out of water? Axolotls can breathe out of water but only for very short periods of time. It’s important that they remain in water to allow them to breathe properly; axolotls can become seriously unwell or even die if taken out of water for even a few minutes.
Axolotls are a relative of the salamander family. However, unlike their relatives, axolotls do not undergo metamorphosis into a land-adapted amphibian.
Instead, they remain aquatic their entire life.
This means that your axolotl will need plenty of water in its tank to swim and explore.
Most of their skeletal structure is composed of cartilage rather than bone, making them very fragile too.
It is for this reason that axolotls shouldn’t be handled unless absolutely necessary.
There are two such times; by a veterinarian for a routine check-up or when removing them from their tank while you replace the water.
While axolotls are hardy pets and can generally tolerate fluctuations in the temperature of their external environment, you should try to keep the conditions within their tank as constant as possible.
Besides, they have very specific needs that need to be met.
Thankfully, other than feeding your axolotl 2-3 times a week, they will be very self-sufficient and generally very easy to care for.
So long as they remain predominantly inside the tank. With optimal conditions, of course.
Nevertheless, let us now take a closer look at this captivating salamander and precisely how they breathe.
Do Axolotls Breathe Air Or Water?
Axolotls do have the ability to breathe air, but very inefficiently, they won’t survive outside of water for any prolonged period of time.
As part of the amphibian class of animals, axolotls require an aquatic environment to survive.
However, unlike many other amphibians that metamorphosise to become a land-capable animal, axolotls remain in their gilled juvenile form throughout their life.
This means that they don’t develop the ability to breathe efficiently through their lungs as other amphibians do but instead must rely on their gills and skin for gas exchange.
Axolotls will sometimes come to the surface of the water to take a breath to supplement their normal gas exchange mechanisms.
This is normal for axolotls to do occasionally, but an axolotl might also do this is if there isn’t enough dissolved oxygen in the water that they are kept in.
In this circumstance, an axolotl might come to the water surface and take in a gulp of air through their mouth more frequently – this isn’t a sustainable way for an axolotl to survive due to the inefficiency of their lungs for gas exchange.
If your axolotl is constantly coming to the surface for air, then it could indicate that the oxygen concentration within their tank is not high enough; an air pump can help with this.
Axolotls must always be kept submerged and not removed as they require their skin and gills to be in constant contact with water.
Axolotls skin is very thin, and the cutaneous blood vessels are very close to the surface.
This allows oxygen, which is dissolved in water, to easily pass into the axolotls’ blood and be transported around the body for respiration to occur.
Carbon dioxide, the waste product of respiration, can also easily diffuse out of the skin by this same mechanism.
Axolotls also have many feathery projections on their head.
These are not just for appearances but function as gills to allow for quick and efficient gas exchange across an increased surface area.
These two mechanisms of gas exchange both have one thing in common: they require the axolotl to be fully submerged in water.
How Long Can Axolotls Hold Their Breath?
As most axolotls rely on their gills for gas exchange, they will go long periods of time without taking in a breath with their lungs, especially if the oxygen concentration in the water is adequate.
Since gas exchange is occurring through their skin and gills, axolotls will rarely come to the surface to take a breath through their mouth.
So technically axolotls can go for very long periods of time holding their breath and some species can even hold their breath for up to a year.
However, unlike when you or I hold our breath, gas exchange is still occurring through an axolotls’ gills and skin.
While they aren’t breathing by drawing air into their lungs through their airways, gases are still able to diffuse into their bloodstream and be transported around their body, providing their cells with the oxygen they need for respiration and removing carbon dioxide.
When an axolotl is removed from water, the oxygen within their bloodstream is gradually depleted and carbon dioxide, the waste product of metabolism, accumulates.
While they can breathe through their lungs to provide some oxygen, this is not sustainable for any period of time.
Eventually, oxygen runs low, and carbon dioxide builds up to toxic levels, resulting in damage to an axolotls cells and organs, eventually resulting in death.
Can You Take An Axolotl Out Of Water?
As mentioned above, although axolotls are amphibians, they won’t survive out of water for long. Even just a few minutes on land can adversely affect their overall health. Therefore, you should avoid taking your axolotl out of its tank.
Axolotls are covered in a protective slimy coating that serves as a defense against bacteria and viruses.
Removing them from water causes this slime coat to dry up, reducing its effectiveness as a barrier to viral or bacterial attack.
This can result in infection of your axolotl and even death.
Of course, there may be times when removing your axolotl from their tank may be necessary, but you should be fully prepared to minimize time out of the water.
This begs the question – how do I change my axolotls’ water and clean their tank?
There are a few ways to approach this issue.
The first of which is to set up another container filled with water ready to transfer your axolotl into while you clean their main tank.
Always provide plenty of water in this temporary container and make the transfer with minimal handling and as quickly as possible.
Another option is to change a portion of the water on a weekly basis.
Many owners will change about a third of the water in their axolotls’ tank every week and do a full tank clean and water replacement every month.
Freshwater test kits can be a great way to monitor the levels of certain toxins in the water that accumulates over time, allowing for water changes to be made only when necessary.
This is the best test kit to get from Amazon for Axolotls, as confirmed by various owners.
Some axolotls will even jump out of their tank if they get spooked or feel threatened by something in the water.
If you’re not around to put them back in then this can be fatal. It is advisable to keep a covering over your axolotls’ tank to prevent this from occurring.
How Long Can Axolotls Stay Out Of Water?
An axolotl cannot stay out of water for much time. As they spend time out of water, their skin begins to dry out, and they run out of oxygen that they need to survive. Every individual axolotl is different, and some may be more tolerant to non-aquatic conditions for longer periods than others, but most will not be able to survive for longer than a few hours.
There is no official time period for how long an axolotl can stay out of water, but their health can start to become negatively affected in minutes when left outside their tank, gradually deteriorating as time passes.
The longer they must go without water, the more time it will take them to recover and some may never recover at all.
As you can see, although axolotls do have some capacity to breathe air and survive for short periods of time out of water, the effects can be irreversible.
Caring for an axolotl need not be complex, and less is often more with these fragile animals.
Avoid removing them from their tank apart from when performing a monthly clean and certainly never handle them unless necessary; axolotls as pets are best to be observed rather than played with.
Following these simple guidelines will lead to a healthy and happy pet axolotl!
Axolotls are unique creatures; many people have never heard of an axolotl, let alone kept one as a pet.
However, although they may seem foreign to many pet owners when compared to a cat or dog, they can be surprisingly easy to care for and look after.
That is, of course, if you optimize their environment inside the tank.
The quality and temperature of the water are perhaps the most important to keep an eye on.
Nonetheless, once you know their specific requirements and what you can and can’t do with them, they can be a very rewarding pet to own and care for.
They’re absolutely enthralling to observe.
And you may just get a smile or two.
Up next: Do Axolotls Drink Water? [The Essential Water Guide]
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.