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Axolotl Socialization Tips

Axolotl socialization
My giant boys, Pixel and L, sharing a polite axolotl greeting.

Tip #1: Most axolotls will have grown out of their cannibal phase by the time they reach a full body size of 3.5 to 4 inches. Make sure to pair axolotls which are similar in size. Cannibal phase or not, if one’s head can fit inside the other’s, it will be considered food!

Tip #2: Choose a time when both axolotls seem relaxed, healthy and have a full belly. It’s very important to feed them well beforehand!

Tip #3: A protein-deficient axolotl is likely to bite tankmates, regardless of age, relative size and other circumstances. So make sure you’re feeding an appropriate diet, and if your axolotl is a rescue, give them a couple weeks of adequate nutrition before introducing them to your other lotls.

Tip #4: Supervise the first interaction and get ready to separate if needed. Getting in each other’s space is okay. Sniffing each other is okay. Being a little jumpy is normal too. Fast stomping towards the other with the nose down to the ground is a bite waiting to happen, so get ready to intervene. Snapping right in front of each other’s face is more of a threat, but still a sign that the axolotl isn’t ready to accept a tankmate. Separate and try again in a few weeks.

Tip #5: If all goes well for the first few minutes, supervise at feeding time for the first several days. That’s usually when aggressive behavior comes out. Try to feed in separate areas of the tank so that they aren’t tempted to go for each other’s food. Stealing food from each other’s mouths is a no-no, as it encourages bites on both sides. Snapping close to each other’s limbs is also not good, so try not to let the food end up close to someone’s toes. Feed the more food-aggressive axolotls first, then feed the more timid ones at a safe distance from the more voracious ones.

Tip #6: If you notice that one axolotl tends to hide a lot, won’t come out at feeding time, and turns away from food, they are either feeling sick or are scared of a food-aggressive tankmate. Separate and try again once both animals seem happy and healthy.

Tip #7: If a pair doesn’t get along right away, don’t get discouraged. Separate them and try again in a few weeks. Just because it didn’t go well last time doesn’t mean it won’t work out next time. Axolotls live in the moment, they don’t hold grudges. I promise!

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Bigger is better! (Why you should get the largest tank possible)

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced aquarist, here’s why you should buy the BIGGEST tank you can afford.

1. It’s less work!

Larger tanks require fewer water changes. Having a larger tank allows you to use more filtration, which keeps your water cleaner longer.

2. It’s more forgiving of your mistakes

Everything is more stable when you’re dealing with a larger body of water: the temperature doesn’t fluctuate as much, pH is more likely to stay constant, and nitrogenous waste has less of an impact when there’s a lot of water to begin with. These three factors (temperature, pH and nitrogenous waste concentration) also affect the overall toxicity of ammonia (article coming soon!). This means that smaller setups are more likely to swing rapidly between non-toxic and toxic conditions. Some species such as freshwater shrimp are especially sensitive to sudden environmental changes, which makes them challenging to keep in a small environment.

3. Your animals will appreciate it.

A larger enclosure gives you the opportunity to provide a more natural environment for your animal. They will certainly appreciate the freedom of movement and the mental stimulation that a more complex environment can afford. An animal who is comfortable in their enclosure will reward you by displaying more natural behavior.

4. It helps them fight off viruses!

Larger tanks provide a temperature gradient — the surface is warmer than the bottom of the tank. One side may also be warmer than the other, depending on light positioning (and heater positioning, if you’re keeping tropical species). Having a temperature gradient in your tank allows your animals to adjust their body temperature, and even to self-medicate! Fish and amphibians are poikilotherms, which means their body temperature is meant to vary along with their environment. It also means that their bodies are not able to trigger a fever when they are sick. Instead, they rely on what we call behavioral fever: a sick animal will gravitate to the hottest area of the tank, act sluggish for a while, and wait for the virus or bacterial infection to pass. Amphibians are also particular in the way that they gravitate to colder temperatures when recovering from illnesses and injuries. Some scientific studies suggest that axolotls’ impressive recovery abilities function best at near-hibernation temperatures.