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Axolotl tankmates: fish edition

Can you keep axolotls with fish? The answer, surprisingly, is yes — you just need to choose your fish carefully.

One thing to keep in mind when keeping fish with axolotls is that those long flowy gills can start to look like food to just about any fish who’s hungry enough. Make sure to keep your fish well-fed, and be ready to separate them if you notice that your axolotl’s gills are showing signs of damage.

Ideal tankmates
My personal success stories! These peaceful fish enjoy cold, hard, neutral pH water. In addition, they are either too fast for axolotls to catch, too big to make an attractive meal, or they reproduce fast enough that the population should be able to maintain itself.

  • Golden skiffia
  • Orange-finned danio (extra aeration & aquarium cover required)
  • White cloud mountain minnow
  • Zebra danio

Potentially good tankmates
These fish sound like they could be good axolotl tankmates in theory, but I have not tried them personally, or they did not work for me, for various reasons.

  • Bengal danio (extra aeration & aquarium cover required)
  • Dusky millions fish
  • Frail gourami
  • Giant chinese bitterling (non-breeding, large aquarium required)
  • Golden barb
  • Green swordtail
  • Indian glass barb
  • Inle loach
  • Maharaja barb
  • Moustached danio
  • Pearl danio
  • Peninsular danio (extra aeration required)
  • Playfair’s panchax
  • Rainbow characodon
  • Red-line torpedo barb
  • Red-spotted panchax
  • Rosy barb
  • Rosy danio (extra aeration & aquarium cover required)

Swimming buffet
These are fish who enjoy the same water parameters as your axolotls, but are likely to become dinner very fast. If you breed them in a separate tank, they could be an attractive option as a source of cheap live food.

  • Checkered barb
  • Golden dwarf barb
  • Medaka (japanese ricefish)
  • Northern glowlight danio
  • Odessa barb
  • Shalyni barb
  • Two-spotted barb

Experienced fishkeepers only!
These species could potentially be a good match, provided that you are able to maintain your water temperatures at a steady 20°C ±1°C. Do read the fish’s care requirements carefully before you make the plunge, as you may need to modify your tank setup or maintenance routine. Do keep an eye out for signs of stress in both species, and be ready to separate or adjust your setup as needed.

  • Black-barred danio
  • Blue danio
  • Blue moon danio
  • Clown barb
  • Dwarf spotted danio
  • Glass barb
  • Gold ring danio
  • Greenstripe barb
  • Guppy (I know it’s typically considered a beginner fish, but trust me on this!)
  • Hikari danio
  • Onespot barb
  • Scarlet badis
  • Spotted barb
  • Swamp barb

Not recommended
While these fish can be kept at room temperature, they should not be kept at temperatures below 21°C for extended periods of time.

  • Banded epiplatys
  • Banded leporinus
  • Beardless barb
  • Black neon tetra
  • Black paradise fish
  • Black phantom tetra
  • Black ruby barb
  • Blackwing hatchetfish
  • Bleeding heart tetra
  • Bluefin nothobranch
  • Brown spike-tailed paradise fish
  • Celestial pearl danio
  • Cherry barb
  • Chocolate gourami
  • Columbian tetra
  • Common hatchetfish (silver hatchetfish)
  • Crossband chocolate gourami
  • Crystal red tetra
  • Cuming’s barb
  • Dadio
  • Discus tetra
  • Dwarf barb
  • Dwarf panchax
  • Dwarf rasbora
  • Ember tetra
  • Emerald dwarf rasbora
  • Empire gudgeon
  • Eyespot rasbora
  • False spanner barb
  • False x-ray tetra
  • Filament barb
  • Fire bar danio
  • Fireline devario
  • Five-banded barb
  • Flag tetra
  • Flame red rasbora
  • Flame tetra
  • Flying barb
  • Flying minnow
  • Glowlight rasbora
  • Golden pencilfish
  • Green line lizard tetra
  • Green neon tetra
  • Green panchax
  • Harlequin
  • Honey gourami
  • Indian glass fish
  • Jelly bean tetra
  • Least killifish
  • Lemon tetra
  • Lined barb
  • Lipstick leporinus
  • Lyretail killi
  • Mad barb
  • Madagascar panchax
  • Marbled hatchetfish
  • Mayan tetra
  • Mosquito rasbora
  • Narayan barb
  • Neon tetra
  • Ornate tetra
  • Pookode lake barb
  • Powder-blue panchax
  • Queen danio
  • Rainbow tetra
  • Red dwarf rasbora
  • Red phantom tetra
  • Red-chinned panchax
  • Red-striped killifish
  • Red-tailed tinfoil barb
  • Rosy loach
  • Savanna tetra
  • Siamese algae eater
  • Silver hatchetfish
  • Six-barred panchax
  • Snakeskin barb
  • Spanner barb
  • Spiketail paradisefish
  • Spotfin hatchetfish
  • Spotted headstander
  • Steel-blue killifish
  • Steindacher’s apisto (A138)
  • Striped flying barb
  • Striped headstander
  • Tasseled-mouth loach
  • Three-striped apisto (A204)
  • Threespot leporinus
  • Variable platy
  • Whitespot eartheater
  • Yellow phantom tetra
  • Yellow tetra

Direct competitors
These bottom-dwelling fish would infringe on your axolotl’s turf, which could lead to stress and aggressive behaviors. This includes most loaches and catfish.

  • Badis
  • Black-lined loach
  • Chinese false gudgeon
  • Horse face loach
  • Kansu loach
  • Mini dragon loach
  • Moose-faced loach
  • Panda loach
  • Peacock loach
  • Ring loach
  • Yo-yo loach
  • Zebra loach

Probably too aggressive
While these guys enjoy cold hard water, I’m not sure about their temperaments. Based on what I know of their close relatives, I would expect them to be too aggressive to be kept with axolotls.

  • Florida flagfish
  • Mekong tiger perch
  • New guinea tiger perch
  • Roundtail paradise fish
  • Sharphead eartheater

Too endangered
Given their precarious conservation status, it wouldn’t make sense to keep these fish in the same tank as a potential predator.

  • Eyespot gourami
  • Siamese tiger perch
  • Spanish toothcarp

Don’t even think about it!
These fish have a tendency to nip at flowy fins and gills, or have environmental needs that differ greatly from those of axolotls. This includes most bettas, cichlids, piranhas, pacus and sharks. I’m not including obligate brackish or saltwater fish, but it goes without saying that those would not be a good match either!

    • African blackfin barb
    • African butterfly barb
    • African red-eyed tetra
    • Ajime loach
    • Amapa tetra
    • Apistogramma spp. (A52, A164, A165, A167, A174, A188, A208, A218, A220, A221, A222)
    • Arrow loach
    • Arulius barb
    • Banded tiger loach
    • Barred danio
    • Barred pencilfish
    • Bengal loach
    • Betta (siamese fighting fish)
    • Biara
    • Black darter tetra
    • Black kuhli loach
    • Black shark
    • Black spot pirhana
    • Black tiger dario
    • Blackstripe pencilfish
    • Blind cave tetra
    • Bloodfin tetra
    • Blue-faced peacock
    • Brichardi
    • Broken-line killifish
    • Brunei beauty
    • Buenos aires tetra
    • Burmese badis
    • Burmese red-tailed garra
    • Butterfly goodeid
    • Butterfly loach
    • Canara pearlspot cichlid
    • Cardinal tetra
    • Chameleon loach
    • Cherry-fin loach
    • Ceylonese combtail
    • Climbing perch
    • Clown loach
    • Congo barb
    • Crescent betta
    • Croaking gourami
    • Cupid cichlid
    • Dawn tetra
    • Deissner’s liquorice gourami
    • Doctor fish
    • Drape fin barb
    • Dwarf chain loach
    • Dwarf pencilfish
    • Emerald betta
    • Emperor botia
    • Emperor cichlid
    • Emperor tetra
    • Fire rasbora
    • Flame-back bleeding heart tetra
    • Flying fox
    • Forktailed loach
    • Gabon killifish
    • Gar characin
    • Giant chocolate gourami
    • Giant danio
    • Giant kuhli loach
    • Glowlight danio
    • Golden zebra loach
    • Goldfish (!!!)
    • Goulding’s piranha
    • Grant’s peacock
    • Green throat mouthbrooder
    • Green tiger loach
    • Greenstripe pencilfish
    • Grizzled loach
    • Half-banded loach
    • Hampala barb
    • Hockeystick pencilfish
    • Hummingbird tetra
    • Imperial flower loach
    • Indonesian tiger perch
    • Java combtail
    • Kennedy’s tetra
    • Kissing gourami
    • Knife livebearer
    • Kuhli loach
    • Lambchop rasbora
    • Laos blackline torpedo loach
    • Laos redtail loach
    • Least pencilfish
    • Leopard bushfish
    • Leopold’s tetra
    • Lesser bleeding heart tetra
    • Lipstick barb
    • Long-finned tetra
    • Loreto tetra
    • Malawi butterfly
    • Manipur baril
    • Marbled headstander
    • Melon barb
    • New yellow regal peacock
    • Northern aulonocara
    • Oiapoque eartheater
    • One-lined pencilfish
    • Orinoco eartheater
    • Ornate paradisefish
    • Ornate tiger sand loach
    • Oscar
    • Panamanian eartheater
    • Panda garra
    • Panda loach
    • Panther danio
    • Paradise fish
    • Payara
    • Pearl cichlid
    • Peruvian tetra
    • Piraya
    • Polka-dot loach
    • Purple pencilfish
    • Purple tetra
    • Pygmy hatchetfish
    • Rainbow shark
    • Red bellied piranha
    • Red-shouldered peacock
    • Red-spotted tetra
    • Red-spotted splashing tetra
    • Red-tailed black shark
    • Red-tailed freshwater barracuda
    • Redfin tiger loach
    • Redflanked bloodfin
    • Redspot cichlid
    • Retail loach
    • Rhino garra
    • Rosy tetra
    • Ruby tetra
    • Saddle cichlid
    • Saddle-back loach
    • Sailfin characin
    • Serpae tetra
    • Sheep pacu
    • Shining pencilfish
    • Silver loach
    • Silver shark
    • Silver tiger perch
    • Skunk loach
    • Slender betta
    • Smudge spot cory
    • Snakehead betta
    • Soda cichlid
    • Sparkling gourami
    • Speckle-tailed loach
    • Splash tetra
    • Splendid killifish
    • Spotscale barb
    • Spotted betta
    • Spotted butterfly loach
    • Spotted hampala barb
    • Spotted metynnis
    • Striped anostomus
    • Striped flying barb
    • Striped pike characin
    • Sucking loach
    • Sulphurhead peacock
    • Sumo loach II
    • Sun loach
    • Sunshine peacock
    • Super convict loach
    • Ternetz’s anostomus
    • Tiger barb
    • Tiger hillstream loach
    • Tinfoil barb
    • Two spot astyanax
    • Three-lined pencilfish
    • Two-stripe pencilfish
    • Two-striped apisto
    • Vaillant’s chocolate gourami
    • Vampire tetra
    • Vietnamese marbled hog-faced loach
    • Violet shark
    • White piranha
    • Yellow-tailed congo tetra
    • Yellowhump eartheater
    • Yoma danio
    • Western mosquitofish
    • X-ray tetra
    • Zipper loach
    • Zodiac loach
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Axolotl breeding, part 1: genetic and health considerations

Selecting a female

Female axolotls can lay up to 1000 eggs at once, which is exhausting for the female. She does not get a break to recover afterwards — her body immediately resumes gamete production, which comes with a high energy cost. For this reason, repeatedly beeding a female can be detrimental to her health. Breeding her too early can also interfere with her growth. Please be mindful of these considerations when choosing a female to breed — choose a female who’s fully grown (at least a year old) and has a healthy appetite and appearance, with a big round belly. Keep in mind that the same female should only be bred a maximum of three times in her lifetime, with a long break in between breedings. Personally, I try to breed females only once, unless they have exceptional characteristics. I also never breed females more than once a year.

Selecting a male

When it comes to choosing a male, the most important thing to consider is genetics. You’ll want to make absolutely sure that your male has no family relation with your female — this would lead to genetic defects in the offspring that can be quite dramatic. Beyond that, it helps to be familiar with how genes combine to create different morphs (phenotypes). Personally, I like to select males with traits that match the female’s best characteristic: for example, my “K” line is all about cute round faces, whereas my “B” line is all about blue gills.

Traits to avoid

You should never, ever breed axolotls with obvious genetic defects, such as:

  • dwarfism [article coming soon!]
  • short toes syndrome
  • “mini” features
  • any physical deformation that isn’t due to regrowth after nipping
  • a tendency to float frequently (especially upside down)
  • other recurrent health issues (e.g. very prone to fungus)

In case of accidental breeding

If you’ve accidentally kept a male and a female together and ended up with eggs, it may seem like the kind choice to keep them and raise them… But in reality, it’s the self-indulgent route that should be avoided in most cases. If the two parents are genetically related (e.g. brother and sister), or if one or both parents have genetic defects, you really wouldn’t be doing the larvae a favor by attempting to raise them. Not only would it compromise their quality of life, but it also poses a risk that the genetic issue will be passed on to future generations if those axolotls also end up getting bred (accidentally or otherwise).

Avoid this rookie mistake!

Another important point to consider is: how many of the eggs can you afford to keep? Raising larvae requires time, effort and space. They are also complicated and expensive to feed, compared to adults. If you are breeding axolotls for the first time, I wouldn’t recommend keeping more than 10. If you keep more than you are able to care for, you will be stretching your resources thin, and the quality of your care will suffer. Trust me — don’t try raising hundreds of axolotls on your first try. You have plenty of time to try your hand at raising more after you’ve brought these first 10 to maturity. You’ll be better prepared to tackle higher numbers once you have a clear idea of the challenges involved.

How to get rid of unwanted axolotl eggs

Freeze them. This will cause the larvae to go into hibernation mode, dulling their sense of pain before vital functions shut down. They will be unconscious before ice crystals begin to form. Once they are frozen solid, you can dispose of the eggs in the compost or trash.

Happy responsible breeding! : )

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Shipping, DOA and refund policies

Live animal shipping

I ship live animals to all Canadian provinces where Canada Post’s Xpresspost and/or Priority services are available. Note that, as per Canada Post’s regulations, live animals can only be shipped from April 1st to October 31st. Additionally, I cannot ship axolotls to provinces where axolotls are illegal to own (i.e. BC and PEI).

DOA policy

In case of death on arrival, please send pictures within two hours of delivery and I will send a replacement at no charge. In case of live eggs shipping, hatch rate is not guaranteed.

Returns

Unopened dry food items may be returned for refund within 30 days of delivery. Please include your invoice number. Live and frozen food sales are final.

Other items may be returned for refund within 30 days of delivery as long as they are still in their original condition. Please include your invoice number.

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Privacy policy

It bothers me that so few companies take the necessary steps to protect your personal information online. I strive to be better. Here’s how:

I don’t track you

I don’t use Google Analytics or any other metadata collection tool or tracker. Those things are useful, but creepy. I can manage without them.

I collect as little data as possible

I only collect the information I need to invoice, ship and refund orders as necessary. You don’t even need to create an account in order to buy from me. Incomplete transactions and inactive accounts are purged regularly, and if you delete your account, it will be deleted for real. That’s actually a rare thing, believe it or not!

I’m picky with third-parties

I’m using WordPress to power this website, but I keep it on a tight leash. I use the minimum amount of plugins necessary to keep this website functional. This includes the components needed to keep this shopping cart working, a cache plugin to prevent my server from getting overwhelmed, and font and language support. I use the strictest possible settings to limit these plugins’ abilities to access and retain your information. I also do my best to keep them up-to-date to prevent security exploits, and take steps to keep my WordPress tough to hack. It pays to date a systems administrator! 😉

I encrypt everything

Even if my website ever got hacked, everything on it is encrypted from start to finish. You will never be asked to login in order to activate encryption, or be made to bounce between encrypted and non-encrypted sections. The services I use to process your transactions, which are WooCommerce and Paypal, also encrypt everything on their end. Any local backups I keep are encrypted as well.

I don’t force you to go through social media

I hate when sites do that! I do have a Facebook page and an Instagram account, because a lot of people prefer to contact me through there, and they allow me to share pictures easily and keep in touch with other breeders across the country. That being said, you absolutely do not need to use these services in order to contact me or buy from me.

If you do choose to use Facebook or Instagram, know that any information that transits through their services is subject to their ever-changing, morally dubious privacy policy. I go over the privacy settings often and select the most restrictive permissions possible, but using your personal information for profit is Facebook’s entire business model. If you have a problem with that, I do too. That’s why I made this website!

I don’t target you for advertising purposes

I’ve worked in advertising, so I’m acutely aware of how annoying, pervasive and potentially damaging it is. Beyond updating my Facebook and Instagram pages once in a while, I don’t really advertise at all. I trust that my reputation will be enough to do the job. If you need me, you’ll find me. It may seem like a weird business model in this day and age, but it works for me so far.

I will never spam you

Ever! I don’t even have a newsletter. Your inbox is safe with me : )

Any questions?

I aim for transparency. If there’s anything you’d like to know that isn’t covered here, feel free to drop me a line.

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Common axolotl myths

Myth #1: Bare bottom tanks cause axolotls to slip and become stressed

If your axolotl is slipping on the glass, your water flow is too strong. Your axolotl should be able to walk along the bottom of the tank without sliding or slipping.

Myth #2: Sand causes impaction in adult axolotls

The use of sand may be risky for axolotl larvae, but there are no documented cases of impaction caused by sand in adult axolotls. However, impaction cases caused by gravel ingestion in adult axolotls are frequent. Which brings us to…

Myth #3: Gravel is a safe substrate for axolotls

Absolutely not! Remember: if it’s smaller than their head, they will ingest it; if it’s larger than their poop, they won’t be able to pass it!

Myth #4: Goldfish are acceptable tankmates for axolotls

Although they both enjoy similar water conditions, these two species are not a good match. Axolotls are not very good at catching fish, but given the chance, they will eat any fish that fits in their mouth. Goldfish aren’t safe for axolotls either, as they tend to nip at their gills. Their bones can also cause impaction due to their size.

Myth #5: You don’t need to feed your axolotl as long as you keep fish in the tank

Again, axolotls are not good hunters. If live fish are the only option on the menu, they will most likely starve.

Myth #6: Frozen bloodworms are an acceptable staple food for axolotls

Bloodworms are a fatty, low-protein snack. Think of them as the french fries of the aquatic world. Axolotls who are fed nothing but bloodworms for an extended period of time become emaciated and tend to bite off their tankmates’ limbs.

Myth #7: Indian almond leaves and black tea work as painkillers for axolotls

Unfortunately, indian almond leaves and black tea have no effect on pain. The tannins they release do have mild antibacterial and antifungal properties, however.

Myth #8: If you see fungus on your axolotl’s gills, you should pull it off or remove it by rubbing it with a Q-tip.

Please don’t do this! By pulling out the fungus, you are literally ripping out living flesh, which is extremely painful. Just allow the fungus-infected gill tissue to necrotize and fall off on its own.

Myth #9: It’s okay to use fish antibiotics on axolotls as long as you use half-doses

First of all, you shouldn’t use antibiotics on an axolotl unless you know which bacteria you are fighting against. If you suspect that your axolotl has a bacterial infection, please ask a veterinarian how you can send in a sample for identification.

Secondly, there is no guarantee that a fish-safe medication will be safe for axolotls. Unless a scientific article or veterinary account confirms that a medication is safe to use on amphibians, please assume that it isn’t!

Finally, by reducing the dose of the antibiotic, you run the risk of creating new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. When treating with antibiotics, always follow dosing instructions and administer the treatment for its entire duration, even if the symptoms are gone.

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How to Cycle Your Aquarium

This article details the safest and most efficient aquarium cycling methods, and highlights some common cycling issues. If you’re not sure what cycling means, please read this article first: Introduction to the Nitrogen Cycle (Or, Why You Killed That Goldfish When You Were Little).

Seeded media method

This is the easiest, fastest and safest cycling method. “Seeded” filter media is any porous material that has been previously used in someone’s filter and still contains active nitrifying bacteria.

Step 1: Obtain the bacteria

If you have an established aquarium and are trying to set up a new one, simply transfer some of the biological media from that filter to your new one. Otherwise, you can ask a friend or your local fish store to give you some of their used filter media. (If you’re in the area, come see me and I will give you some of mine!) Once the media is in place, simply start your filter and let the bacteria do their work.

Step 2: Feed the bacteria

To keep the bacteria alive in your filter, you will need to provide them with a source of ammonia. Follow the ammonia or live-in methods from this point on. Note that the live-in method will be stressful for your animals. Using seeded media shortens the cycling process, but it could still take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Ammonia method

This is the method I recommend if you have a brand new aquarium with no living animals in it. You can buy small amounts of pure ammonia from my shop, or find some in the cleaning section of most hardware stores. Some people prefer to let fish flakes or a raw shrimp decompose in their aquarium to create a source of ammonia, but this makes the process a lot slower and can introduce harmful pathogens to your tank. It’s also unreliable, as the amount of ammonia produced this way is extremely variable. Using pure ammonia allows you to control the exact concentration of ammonia that ends up in your tank.

Step 1: Obtain the bacteria

Aside from ammonia, you will need a source of bacteria. You could take your chances and wait for them to occur naturally in the water, but using bottled bacteria will speed things up considerably. You can obtain some from my shop or any pet store that sells fish. Any brand of bottled nitrifying bacteria will work. Pour them into the water and they will cling to whatever surface they find. The more porous surface they have to inhabit, the better. The vast majority will end up inside your filter, as they require a lot of oxygen to thrive. So make sure you have porous material in there, and always keep the filter running!

Step 2: Feed the bacteria

You’ll want to start with an ammonia concentration of 2 to 4 ppm. To get to this concentration, add 2 to 4 mL of pure ammonia per L of aquarium water (~1/2 Tbsp to 1Tbsp per gallon). This single dose should be enough to keep your bacteria fed for the entire duration of the cycling process.

Step 3: Monitor the parameters

Follow the instructions in the monitoring section, starting from step 2.

Emergency live-in cycling

If you already have animals in your aquarium and you’re unable to relocate them to a different, well-established tank while their current tank cycles, you may need to do an emergency live-in cycling. It will be stressful for your animals, but with careful monitoring and quick interventions, you can prevent chemical burns and secondary illnesses.

Step 1: Obtain the bacteria

Ideally, you’ll want to use seeded media for this, as it truly is the quickest and safest way to get your bacteria established. If that’s not an option, I highly recommend getting your hands on a bottle of Tetra SafeStart. This is, in my experience, the fastest and safest product on the market. Unfortunately it is nearly impossible to find in Canada. I would definitely carry it in the store if I could find a supplier!

If you do manage to get your hands on a bottle of TSS, you’ll want to do a big water change, then dump the entire contents of the bottle into your tank and leave it alone for two weeks. Note that you won’t be able to use conditioner during that time, as it interferes with TSS’s mechanism, according to Tetra. You’re not supposed to do water changes either, but obviously if your animals show signs of distress, you’re allowed to bend the rules a little. Just try to keep it to a minimum (you can do spot cleanings with a turkey baster, and refill to counter evaporative loss). Aside from that, just cross your fingers and wait.

If you can’t find TSS, just use any brand of bottled nitrifying bacteria. You can still keep your animals safe — it’s just going to be more work.

Step 2: Feed the bacteria

Your animals will take care of this step for you. Moving on!

Step 3: Monitor the parameters

If you’re using Tetra SafeStart:

Every two days or so, test the water for nitrites. If you detect 2.0 ppm of nitrites or more, do a 50% water change to prevent stalling (see the troubleshooting section for details). Make sure to use dechlorinated water — remember, you’re not allowed to use conditioner!

After two weeks, test the water for ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. If you detect no ammonia or nitrites, but nitrates are 40 ppm or more, congratulations! Your aquarium is cycled. Do a final water change and you’re done.

If you’re still getting ammonia or nitrites, start doing 50% water changes and adding conditioner once a day. You will need to do this until the tank is fully cycled — yes, it’s a pain, but it’s the only way to keep your animals safe! Start monitoring your cycle as described in step 3 of the monitoring section below.

If you’re using a different product:

Start doing 50% water changes and adding conditioner once a day. You will need to do this until the tank is fully cycled — yes, it’s a pain, but it will keep your animals safe!

Follow the instructions in the monitoring section below, starting from step 1.

Monitoring the cycle

Most guides have you testing ammonia, nitrites and nitrates with liquid test kits every single day until the aquarium is fully cycled. That is a lot of work! Here is what I recommend instead:

Step 1: Ammonia

Test for ammonia once a day until you get a reading of 0.25 ppm or more. Then, move onto step 2.

Step 2: Nitrites

Test for nitrites once a day until you get a reading of 0.5 ppm or above. Then, move onto step 3.

Note: if nitrites shoot up to 2.0 ppm or above, add conditioner. This will help prevent your cycle from stalling (more details in the troubleshooting section).

If you don’t record any nitrites for two weeks, consult the troubleshooting section.

Step 3: Nitrates

Test for nitrates once a day until you get a reading of 40 ppm or above, then test ammonia and nitrites. If they are both at zero, congratulations! Your aquarium is fully cycled. Do one last water change and you will be good to go.

If you’re getting 40 ppm nitrates or more, but are still registering ammonia, consult the troubleshooting section.

If ammonia is at zero but you are still getting some nitrites, you probably just need to wait a bit longer. Give it a couple days and test again.

Cycle troubleshooting

Problem 1: You’re not getting the first ammonia spike (all parameters are at zero)

You didn’t enough ammonia to start the cycle. Are you trying to cycle your tank with fish flakes, raw shrimp or using animals who don’t produce much waste (e.g. snails)? Don’t do that. Use one of the methods described above, you’ll have a much easier time.

Problem 2: Ammonia is not converting into nitrites (high ammonia, no nitrites, no nitrates)

You don’t have enough nitrifying bacteria in the water. Add bottled bacteria, that will kick-start the process. Make sure your filter is equipped with biological media so they will have a space to colonize, and don’t forget to keep your filter running at all times.

Problem 3: Your cycle is stalled at the nitrite stage (little to no ammonia, high nitrites, no nitrates)

Your nitrites are too high. To avoid a bacterial die-off, you should be keeping the levels below 4 ppm. Add conditioner to neutralize the excess. (Seachem Prime is convenient for this purpose: one dose will neutralize 0.5 ppm of nitrites, and you can safely quadruple the dose even if there are animals in your tank!)

Problem 4: The cycle never seems to end (low ammonia, low nitrites, high nitrates)

You don’t have enough filtration capacity for the amount of ammonia that is being produced in your tank. Perhaps you are overstocking, are not using enough biological media, or your filter is inadequate.

Problem 5: Your cycle suddenly crashed (high ammonia, little to no nitrites, low to high nitrates)

Something killed off your nitrifying bacteria. Maybe your filter stopped running for too long (e.g. during a power outage). Maybe you forgot to dechlorinate the water. Maybe you treated your tank with an antibiotic. Whatever it is, you will need to restart the cycling process. If you’re lucky, some of the bacteria survived the ordeal. Follow the steps for live-in cycling and hope for a quick recovery!

 

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Is it legal to buy/sell/own axolotls in Canada?

Since axolotls are critically endangered in the wild, it takes a special permit to import/export them in and out of Canada. Obviously, it’s also illegal to catch them in the wild (assuming there are any left!) But luckily for the survival of the species, there are no laws against breeding them in captivity. Selling, buying and owning axolotls is also legal through most of Canada — the notable exceptions are British Columbia and Prince-Edward-Island, due to BC’s erroneous classification of axolotls as wildlife, and PEI’s blanket prohibition of all amphibians (and erroneous perception of axolotls as tiger salamanders, which are a different genus!) If you live in those areas, I urge you to get involved in local politics! ; )

Aside from this, you should check your city’s regulations before purchasing an axolotl. Some cities have weird pet regulations. Luckily, here in Montréal, all non-poisonous amphibians are allowed. Strangely enough, we need a permit to keep a cat or a dog!

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SAM Super Auction

I was at the SAM Super Auction yesterday! It was my first time participating. I had a blast! Raked in quite a nice loot, too. Aquarium societies are a great place to get animals and plants that aren’t sold in stores. I finally got my hands on a live moina culture!

It was really nice to meet so many other hobbyists. I think I might have to squeeze the monthly meetings into my schedule. That means something else is gonna have to come out. Ehh, who needs sleep, am I right?

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Axolotl Diseases

This is a quick reference list of common health issues, as well as axolotl-safe treatments. I will add to this article little by little. If you’d like me to talk about one illness in particular, please email me.

Ammonia poisoning

Deformation of the caudal fin and bleeding due to ammonia poisoning.

Early symptoms:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Curling, atrophy of gill filaments
  • Irritated skin (some redness visible on axolotls with pale skin)
  • Veins becoming more visible (also on axolotls with pale skin)

Advanced symptoms:

  • Whitening, curling, atrophy of gill stalk tips
  • Prounounced red patches on the skin (visible on axolotls with pale skin)
  • Loss of gill filaments
  • Deformation of the caudal fin
  • Erosion of the tail tip and fingertips
  • Bleeding
  • Death

How to diagnose:

In the presence of some or all of the above symptoms, test ammonia levels. If any ammonia is detected, the animal is almost certainly suffering from ammonia poisoning.

Causes:

Ammonia poisoning is either due to new tank syndrome or improper husbandry (infrequent water changes, overcrowding, overfeeding, or using inadequate filtration).

Treatment:

If the cause is new tank syndrome, follow the treatment instructions listed below. Otherwise, you will need to find the cause of the problem and fix it. Daily 50% water changes and the addition of conditioner every 24 hours will keep your animals safe until the issue is resolved. Keep testing the water for ammonia every 24 hours until no more ammonia is detected. To prevent the situation from reoccuring in the future, I highly recommend testing ammonia once a week.

New tank syndrome

Early symptoms:

  • Gradual loss of vitality, typically within the first month following the introduction of the axolotl to a new aquarium
  • Red patches on the skin (visible on axolotls with pale skin)
  • Curling, atrophy of gill filaments
  • Lack of appetite or inability to chew or swallow food
  • Change in gill color (paler or more brownish)

Advanced symptoms:

  • Whitening, curling, atrophy of gill stalk tips
  • Loss of gill filaments
  • Erosion and/or deformation of the caudal fin
  • Bleeding
  • Death

How to diagnose:

In the presence of some or all of the above symptoms, test ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels. You can assume that the animal is suffering from new tank syndrome ammonia and/or nitrites are detected and one or more of the following statements are true:

  • Nitrates are absent or very low (~10 ppm or less)
  • The animal has been living in the aquarium for less than two months
  • The filter is brand new, or the filter media has been completely replaced recently
  • The filter stopped running (e.g. during a power outage) for three hours or more
  • You have recently treated the tank with an antibiotic
  • You have been refilling your aquarium with tap water, without adding conditioner

If ammonia and/or nitrites are present but nitrates are also high (>40 ppm) and none of the other conditions apply, a more likely diagnosis is ammonia poisoning and/or nitrite poisoning due to improper husbandry (infrequent water changes, overcrowding, overfeeding, or using inadequate filtration).

Causes:

Uncycled aquarium (lack of nitrifying bacteria in the filter) leading to ammonia poisoning and/or nitrite poisoning.

Treatment:

Daily water changes and addition of conditioner as needed until the aquarium is properly cycled. The addition of seeded filter media or a bacterial additive is strongly recommended.

Nitrite poisoning

Early symptoms:

  • Very pale gills
  • Frequent breathing at the water surface
  • Crowding near the water inlet or air stone

Advanced symptoms:

  • Gills turning brown
  • Uncontrolled floating
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of interest in food
  • Gill damage, gill loss and/or saprolegniosis
  • Eventual death

Diagnosis:

In the presence of some or all of the above symptoms, test nitrite levels. If any are detectable, you can assume that the animal is suffering from nitrite poisoning.

Causes:

Frequently occurs as part of new tank syndrome or as the result of a cycle crash (e.g. after a power failure). May also be due to overstocking, the presence of something rotting in the tank, or infrequent water changes.

Treatment:

Daily water changes and addition of conditioner as needed until the aquarium is properly cycled. The addition of seeded filter media or a bacterial additive is strongly recommended. Make sure the tank isn’t overstocked and that partial water changes are conducted at least once a week.

Saprolegniosis (winter fungus)

Early signs of saprolegnia.

Early symptoms:

  • Raised white or grey lesions that have a soft appearance, like cotton wool. Typically start as small circles on the axolotl’s head or gills, then grow larger and merge as the disease progresses.

Advanced symptoms:

  • A fuzzy growth, reminiscent of a dandelion puff, typically on the axolotl’s gills — may appear white, grey or tan to brown as debris accumulate
  • Partial loss of gill stalks
  • Death, if internal organs are affected

Causes:

Compromised immune system due to stress, reducing the animal’s natural resistance to saprolegnia (a fungus whose spores are naturally present in virtually all water sources). May appear as a secondary infection if the axolotl is already battling another illness.

Diagnosis: 

The visual cues are usually pretty obvious. In the presence of some or all of the above symptoms, your veterinarian may conduct a skin scraping to identify Saprolegnia’s hyphae (a root-like structure) under a microscope.

Treatment:

Eliminate potential stress causes such as improper housing conditions, poor water quality (especially in an uncycled aquarium), high temperatures, aggressive tankmates or strong water flow. If the axolotl is on the verge of laying eggs or recovering after egg-laying, it may help to isolate her and lower the temperature slightly to help her recuperate. The same applies to an axolotl who is in the process of regrowing a limb. In advanced cases, salt baths are recommended.

Short Toes Syndrome

Axolotl suffering from short toes syndrome. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous breeders take advantage of this painful and deadly condition by marketing the afflicted animals as “dwarf axolotls”. Buyers beware! Photo: Amanda Gomes

Early symptoms:

  • Unusually short limbs and toes
  • Inability to regenerate missing limbs
  • Shortened/missing bones and bone joints

Advanced symptoms:

  • Signs of pain and distress (forward gills, mouth hanging open, arched spine, lack of interest in food, lack of movement)
  • Internal bleeding
  • Skin blisters
  • Hemorrhages
  • Extreme swelling and bloating

Causes:

Short toes is caused by a genetic mutation, which results in skeletal, renal and urogenital malformations. The afflicted animals have shortened lifespans, eventually suffering from painful edema and kidney failure.

Diagnosis:

The shortened toes are a sufficient cue.

Treatment:

Unfortunately, not much can be done to alleviate the issues caused by the mutation. Studies suggest Holtfreter’s solution may help for a time, but it may be kinder to euthanize the animal to spare it further suffering. Alternatively, you may consider donating your axolotl to a university, as short toes axolotls are important to limb regeneration research.

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Filtration Basics

There are many models of filter, but they all rely on the same principles. There are three types of filtration: mechanical, chemical and biological. Understanding what these do will help you choose the right filter, save money on expensive filter media, and keep your aquatic pets safe from new tank syndrome.

Mechanical filtration
Most filter models rely on some type of mechanical filtration. Mechanical filtration is the process of physically trapping debris that are floating in the water, so that you can remove it by hand. This is done by forcing the water through an absorbant, porous material such as a sponge, filter pad or floss. Any particles too big to fit through the pores will stick to the material, which will eventually clog and need to be rinsed out or replaced.

Materials will large pores will last longer without clogging, but will let many small particles through. We often refer to those materials as pre-filters, because they are typically used as the first step of any multi-step filtration system. By removing the largest chunks, it allows the rest of the system to do a better job without clogging right away.

Materials with small pores will trap fine particles, but this also means they will saturate easily and need to be replaced often. We tend to refer to these materials as water polishers, since they help to make the water look much clearer. These are typically used as the last step of any multi-step system.

Chemical filtration
This type of filtration relies the chemical properties of carbon or other materials with high affinity for the types of molecules that we want to remove from the water (ammonia, heavy metals, etc.) As water flows through the substance, those molecules bind to the carbon atoms (or whatever the chemically attractive substance is). Once saturated, the material needs to be replaced or recharged.

Because we often use carbon cartridges to filter our own drinking water, chemical filtration is what most people think about when they think of water filtration. You might be surprised to know that this type of filtration, while useful, is not actually essential in an aquarium. Unless you are trying to remove leftover medication from the water, or you are dealing with a major ammonia crisis, it’s perfectly fine to omit it.

In fact, chemical filtration can sometimes cause more harm than good. Some of the most commonly used substances, such as carbon, begin to leech harmful substances back into the water once it reaches its saturation point. For this reason, it absolutely must be changed once a month. If you’re as lazy as I am when it comes to filter maintenance, you’ll probably want to look into different options. Carbon use has also been linked to hole in the head disease (HITH, or head and lateral line erosion, HLLE) in certain species of fish.

Biological filtration
This type of filtration is absolutely essential to the survival of your aquatic pets. A healthy aquarium isn’t just a glass box filled with water — it’s a whole ecosystem, full of living organisms with important roles to play. The term “biological filtration” refers specifically to the most crucial of these organisms: two groups of bacteria that, together, process harmful nitrogenous waste into a much less toxic form. You can read more about this process here: Introduction to the Nitrogen Cycle (or, Why You Killed That Goldfish When You Were Little). For now, let me just say that without these little guys, we wouldn’t be able to keep aquatic pets alive in our homes. Hobbyists call these little magic helpers BBs (short for beneficial bacteria).

To be able to perform their important job, BBs need to make a cozy home for themselves inside your filter. They inhabit porous materials like sponges, bio-balls and ceramic rings. Collectively, we refer to these substances as bio media. The process of helping the BBs colonize their new homes is called cycling, and it is the most important thing you need to do before bringing any new aquatic animal home. You can read about proper cycling methods here: How to Cycle Your Aquarium.

Keep in mind that bio media should never be replaced. If it’s especially dirty, you can rinse it by swishing it around in a bucket filled with aquarium water. Never rinse your bio media under the tap, as BBs are sensitive to chlorine. Don’t squeeze the sponges, either!

If your filter only accepts disposable cartridges, make sure to always leave an old cartridge behind the newer one to give the bacteria a chance to migrate (or better yet, get a better filter!)