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RIP Axolotl
January 29, 2014 7:45 AM   Subscribe

It looks like axolotls are gone forever. This may not mean much to you if you aren't into amphibians, but if you read Mad Magazine back in the day the word might conjure up some memories, or even a poem.

I Wandered Lonely as a Clod from Mad Magazine, 1958

I wandered lonely as a clod,
Just picking up old rags and bottles,
When onward on my way I plod,
I saw a host of axolotls;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
A sight to make a man's blood freeze.

Some had handles, some were plain;
They came in blue, red pink, and green.
A few were orange in the main;
The damndest sight I've ever seen.
The females gave a sprightly glance;
The male ones all wore knee-length pants.

Now oft, when on the couch I lie,
The doctor asks me what I see.
They flash upon my inward eye
And make me laugh in fiendish glee.
I find my solace then in bottles,
And I forget them axolotls.

PLEASE NOTE: The disappearance of any living creature is a horror. I do not mean to make light of the passing of one of the earth's wonders. I mean only to harken back to a time when words were sometimes slung around for the sheer fun of their spelling.
posted by kinnakeet (77 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nintendo game players might be familiar with axolotls through the slightly-creepy Dr. Shrunk in Animal Crossing.
posted by melissam at 7:52 AM on January 29 [5 favorites]


I was going to note that sure some live on in research laboratories as they are notable in neurobiology research, but it sounds like they don't necessarily breed well in those conditions. This is sad news. If their genome hasn't been sequenced yet, we'd better get on that, stat.

(I apologize if that sounds overly... scientific? calculated? cold? But that is the context where I learned about the creature. They're awesome from a evolutionary perspective!)
posted by maryr at 7:53 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


Post taken in the spirit in which is it offered - wistful and sentimental.

It's just as sad to me when an ugly creature vanishes from the Earth as a pretty one. I hope that this is not true, or that we figure out a way to continue to breed them or resequence them...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:54 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


They're kind of cute! They have a bit of a smile to them...
posted by maryr at 7:55 AM on January 29


"There was a time when I thought a great deal about the axolotls. I went to see them in the aquarium at the Jardin des Plantes and stayed for hours watching them, observing their immobility, their faint movements. Now I am an axolotl."
posted by escabeche at 7:55 AM on January 29 [16 favorites]


.

I'm sad that Wooper has outlived its inspriation.
posted by ignignokt at 7:57 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


I know of axolotls thanks to Pokémon. They're sometimes kept as pets; I had no idea they were near extinction in the wild. Sad news.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:57 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I wonder if Blixa had this in mind.
posted by Dr Dracator at 7:58 AM on January 29


I remember a biology teacher in Montana showing me one a number of years ago, saying that there's a small axolotl habitat there. Just searched for it, and found that there is a salamander in two lakes in Montana commonly called an axolotl but isn't the same species as the Mexican one.
posted by msbrauer at 7:58 AM on January 29


Thought this was a Dune article
posted by JARED!!! at 7:58 AM on January 29


Cutest. Extinction. Ever. :(
posted by phunniemee at 8:00 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Its only natural habitat is the Xochimilco network of lakes and canals — the "floating gardens" of earth piled on reed mats that the Aztecs built to grow crops but are now suffering from pollution and urban sprawl.

This implies that the species' habitat was both created and destroyed by the actions of civilized humanity. Are there any other examples of this?
posted by demiurge at 8:00 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Axolotls survive in quantity in labs, because they are useful for researching things like regeneration. Maybe someday we can regrow body parts, even organs, thanks to the axolotls. Thaxolotls.
posted by The otter lady at 8:00 AM on January 29 [44 favorites]


Meh, he was never very active.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:04 AM on January 29


I remember my parents buying me one of those wildlife explorer educational "safari" sets from an infomercial in the 80s. It was a green tacklebox full of cards, each bearing a photo of the animal, and facts about it on the back. The axolotl was always one of my favorites because it was just so improbable. It was everything that I might have designed if I set out to create an improbable creature. And consequently, it was like the universe reached out and patted me on the head and said, "See kid? Your wildest dreams are just the beginning!"

Among a handful of other random things, seeing one in real life has been almost a Bucket List type activity for me. But I always felt like "Eh, it lives right next door in Mexico. I'll get there eventually, and it'll be waiting there for me with its adorable little frilly pink gills and open arms." So I guess the axolotl originally taught me that the strangeness of the universe was beyond my imagining... and now it has taught me not to wait to go see whatever marvels of the universe are calling my name, because it might eventually be too late.

Here's to you, axolotl.

.
posted by jph at 8:05 AM on January 29 [16 favorites]


If you aren't into amphibians, you should be. They're in distress everywhere. From what I understand, they're kind of an environmental bellwether, as they're amongst the first species to manifest signals of distress due to their sensitivity, when their environment is impacted by human use.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:06 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


.

Indiana University has a big colony used for research. Poor little guys remain one of my favorite words in language. Damn, now I'm worried about the Barton Springs salamanders all over again. Sucks being an indicator species.
posted by theweasel at 8:06 AM on January 29


Slimy canaries. :(
posted by jph at 8:07 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Gaaaah. I love Axolotls.

.
posted by Zarkonnen at 8:09 AM on January 29


.
posted by mondo dentro at 8:13 AM on January 29


.
posted by Iridic at 8:17 AM on January 29


Hum, "Afternoon with the Axolotls"
posted by gucci mane at 8:17 AM on January 29


I had the "A" volume of some kind of encyclopedia of animals when I was a kid, I think we got it for free and didn't order the rest.

That's why I knew about Axolotls and Aye-Ayes long before they became popular on the internets.

They are awfully cool little critters.

Well, were. :(
posted by edheil at 8:19 AM on January 29


The sun nailed to the sky’s center does not throb
does not breathe
life does not commence with out blood
without the embers of sacrifice
the wheel of days does not revolve
Xolotl refuses to consume himself
he hid himself in the corn but they found him
he hid himself in the maguey but they found him
he fell into the water and became the fish axolotl
the Double-Being
                            ‘and then they killed him’
Movement began, the world was set in motion
the procession of dates and names
Xolotl the dog, guide to Hell
he who dug up the bones of the fathers
he who cooked the bones in a pot
he who lit the fire of the years
the maker of men
Xolotl the penitent
the burst eye that weeps for us
Xolotl
           larva of the butterfly
           double of the Star
           sea-shell
           other face of the Lord of Dawn
Xolotl the axolotl
Salamander – Octavio Paz
posted by Omon Ra at 8:20 AM on January 29 [7 favorites]


Damn, now I'm worried about the Barton Springs salamanders all over again.

They EPA has waited waaay too long to do anything about them. Their population has been in the low hundreds at best the last few years -- anything that's done at this point might just slow their inevitable demise. The development & the environmental damage has already been done. No one is going to tear down Barton Creek Country Club over a few stupid lizards because property rights! The SOS alliance & the Edwards Aquifer Protection Plan are under constant attack at the state level by lawmakers who seek to implement laws that override local ordinances, because property rights! The whole thing is utterly depressing.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:24 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


So, is the axolotl's demise just due to pollution, or is the pet/research trade somewhat responsible too?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:25 AM on January 29


oh no! :( i love them. any time i'm having a bad day i google pictures of them. and now when i do that i'll just be sad.
posted by nadawi at 8:27 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Real-life pokémon, and we killed it. :/
posted by weston at 8:27 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


also - how can anyone call them ugly?? that just baffles me.
posted by nadawi at 8:27 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


Interesting stuff about Neoteny on Wikipedia.
posted by ovvl at 8:29 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


There are a couple of them in one of the ponds at the Garfield Conservatory in Chicago if some Chicagoans or visitors want to see them IRL.
posted by srboisvert at 8:30 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I was not aware they were so endangered. We have a few at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.

Very sad news indeed. At least they aren't completely gone and some survive in captivity. Perhaps they can be reintroduced from those??
posted by Twain Device at 8:43 AM on January 29


It's ridiculous and sad that they're extinct in the wild, but I think they are kept as pets more commonly than some people think. And I know a handful of people personally that have successful captive breeding programs with them, to the point that there are multiple color morphs you can get. If we could figure out a way to do a successful reintroduction program that would be awesome!
posted by d13t_p3ps1 at 8:45 AM on January 29


It looks like axolotls are gone forever.

Disturbing as the linked article is, this is a somewhat tendentious summary of what it actually says. Scientists are gravely concerned about the axolotl's fate, yes, but they're not yet ready to declare it extinct in the wild and nobody is suggesting that they're close to extinction in captivity.
posted by yoink at 8:47 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I had no idea axolotls were so rare, since I'm only aware of them through pop culture. Along with the already named examples, there was a One Piece arc where an axolotl named Smiley was a living chemical weapon, a la DC's Chemo. Yep, a giant axolotl is still more cute than threatening, so you need to make it a slimy WMD as well if you want it to be scary.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 8:51 AM on January 29


As usual I have learned much from this thread and feel some relief. I've always had a soft spot for the axolotl, ever since Mad sent me running to the World Book, and I grieve over their loss in their original habitat. It is good that they exist in private collections and won't disappear completely, at least in the near term. All the same, I don't think hearing the word "axolotl" will give me a silly grin anymore.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:56 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


I've been bitten by an axolotl, but the only superpower I got was the ability to do very little while staring off into the middle distance and smiling faintly. Serves me right for playing with Aristotle's food.

(yeah, our school named the axolotl Aristotle.)
posted by scruss at 9:06 AM on January 29 [16 favorites]


Also a missed opportunity for pedants. Sure, we've been obnoxiously pluralizing octopus as octopodes, but that seems like pretty weak stuff when you realize we could have been obnoxiously pluralizing axolotl as axolomeh.
posted by this is a thing at 9:13 AM on January 29 [5 favorites]


I've been bitten by an axolotl, axolotl, axolotl
Leapin and hoppin' on an axolotl, axolotl, axolotl

And if I ever lose my hands, I'll grow them back, and do hand-stands,
Oh if I ever lose my hands, Oh if.... the axolomeh are to blame, for sure.
posted by yoink at 9:18 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


I will axolalways think fondly of my youthful period of axolotl enthusiasm. I hope they are not really gone, or that it'll be possible to reintroduce them some day. They're beautiful creatures.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:29 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I once took care of an axolotl on loan from the Steinhart Aquarium for a while. He was good company and had a lot of personality for an amphibian. This is sad news.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:43 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Say it ain't so, Dr. Shrunk.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:59 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


The article calls them ugly, which kinda stuns me. I always thought they looked cute!
posted by ShawnStruck at 10:13 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


My heart breaks.
posted by ooga_booga at 10:30 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


This summer: Rob Schneider is... The Dash Man.
posted by condour75 at 10:33 AM on January 29


Some axolotls still survive in aquariums, water tanks and research labs, but experts said those conditions aren't the best, because of interbreeding and other risks.

Tovar Garza said it is too early to declare the axolotl extinct in its natural habitat.


Concern is good, but we're not quite past the dodo stage. (Another former MAD reader.)
posted by IndigoJones at 10:55 AM on January 29


Once again Merriam-Webster's pronunciation soundfiles have come in handy for me. I don't understand why Wikipedia hasn't incorporated soundfiles for all its entries yet. I could really use this feature for the names of people, in particular, since M-W obviously doesn't have these.
...

Invisible Hand Sez: The market will boost the axolotl population into the millions if only we develop a taste for delicious, factory farmed axolotl meats. Or if we import them into our homes as exotic companion animals.
posted by dgaicun at 11:07 AM on January 29


oh no! :( i love them. any time i'm having a bad day i google pictures of them. and now when i do that i'll just be sad.


This is exactly how I feel. Such friendly smiles! And now, another species that mankind managed to get to before itself.

Damn.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:12 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


.

:( I just saw one at the Shedd a week ago.
posted by bibliogrrl at 11:16 AM on January 29


.
posted by anthill at 11:30 AM on January 29


I work on their threatened/endangered congeners, California tiger salamander, and if you can't see the cuteness then you're just letting your mammal bias show. Axolotls are amazing creatures. I really hope that more are found in future surveys, but more than that I hope that some serious habitat restoration can be performed, and re-introductions made if necessary. In the US there is at least a legal structure and funding for that kind of work, I don't know what resources are available in Mexico. I know they have an equivalent to the Endangered Species Act, but do they have any government funding for habitat protection and restoration? If somebody wants to keep these alive in the wild do they have resources available besides donor-funded efforts?
posted by agentofselection at 11:40 AM on January 29 [5 favorites]


Oh no. :-( I clicked through hoping this would turn out to be some clever pop-culture reference that I didn't get, but no... Poor adorable axolotls.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 11:57 AM on January 29


Didn't Monty Python do a sketch with a bunch of philosophers from the University of Xochimilco who all have wine corks hanging from their sombreros, and one of them says "This here's the Axolotl the emblem of our land, you can stick it in a bottle you can hold it in your hand"? It's been a while, I could be remembering it wrong.

Also

.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:58 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I'm very sad to see them go; they're cute as hell, and Xochimilco is a fantastic place. I think the problem is insolvable, though; Xochimilco's canals are the last remnant of a lake and canal system that once filled the Valley of Mexico, all other traces of which are gone now, and as a result they are now downhill from everything and collect pollution from throughout one of Earth's largest cities. Just the copper, lead, cadmium, etc. from road runoff must be horrific there. There's also some raw sewage runoff in the area.

And of course the government introduced tilapia as a food fish, and tilapia eat axolotl eggs and babies, and compete for other food.

There is a pet trade, not from wild critters but raised in tanks; I saw some a while back at my favorite fish store and they were adorable.

UNAM and other organizations are working to restore their habitat, in rather sad little corners of the canals, but it's a lost cause.

If you are ever in Mexico City, a canal boat ride is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon, even without any external gills on offer. My favorite place is Felix Candela's amazing concrete shell restaurant, Los Manantiales. Show a picture to any boatman and he can take you right there. And visit the nearby Dolores Olmedo Museum, too, if you like Diego Rivera paintings or Xoloitzcuintli dogs.
posted by Fnarf at 12:24 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


They need to fix Xochimilco, basically, which is a huge problem in itself, but needs to be done for a number of reasons.

It doesn't seem like the axolotl is going to go actually extinct any time soon, though. Wikipedia says:
Today, the axolotl is still used in research as a model organism, and large numbers are bred in captivity. They are especially easy to breed compared to other salamanders in their family, which are almost never captive-bred due to the demands of terrestrial life.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:31 PM on January 29


I used to be an Axolotl, I did what axolotls do,
I breathed through gills, my skin was mottled,
I know you don't believe it's true.


(Lyrics make more sense after reading this classic paper)
posted by benzenedream at 12:34 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]



Describing an effort last year by researchers in skiffs to try to net axolotls in the shallow, muddy waters of Xochimilco, Tovar Garza summed up the results as "four months of sampling — zero axolotls."

Seems a bit early to declare them extinct, but still pretty alarming.

Tovar Garza said it is too early to declare the axolotl extinct in its natural habitat.

Well.

He said that in early February, researchers will begin a three-month search in hopes of finding what may be the last free-roaming axolotl.

Maybe the Ivory Billed Woodpeckers ate 'em all.

It's just as sad to me when an ugly creature vanishes from the Earth
All things dull and ug-a-ly, all creatures short and squat,
All things rude and na-a-sty, the Lord God made the lot.

Each little snake that poisons, each little wasp that stings,
He made their brutish venom, He made their horrid wings.

All things sick and cancerous, all evil great and small,
All things foul and dangerous, The Lord God made them all.

Each nasty little hornet, each beastly little squid,
Who made the spikey urchin? who made the sharks? He did!

All things scabbed and ulcerous, all pox both great and small,
Putrid, foul and gangrenous, The Lord God made them all.

AMEN.
posted by Herodios at 12:40 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


In a similar vein to Herodios' offering, I give you Gerard Manley Hopkins' lovely "Pied Beauty":

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.
posted by kinnakeet at 1:22 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


Not to rain on your extinction parade, but it may not be the case. A friend of mine, expert on the matter, just posted this to indicate that the axolotls may still have a chance. [Spanish]
posted by dov3 at 1:48 PM on January 29


I have 5 of the little fellas goofing around the aquarium at my place. I think they are very handsome critters indeed! Very sad they're in jeopardy in the wild.
posted by Philby at 1:48 PM on January 29


I think axolotls are absolutely gorgeous.

Seems a bit early to declare them extinct, but still pretty alarming.

I realised about 20 years ago that wherever humans doing something shitty is concerned, it's never "too early" to definitively say that, yes, we have done something incredibly shitty. Axolotls were guaranteed annihilation the second our ancestors stepped foot outside of Africa.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:52 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Aren't these the things that if you inject them with iodine or something they turn into salamanders? Cause they are basically just made of a buncha stem cells or something?
posted by lazaruslong at 4:14 PM on January 29


Just about everyone I knew and all the classrooms at primary schools had them as pets in New Zealand in the 1980s. I just assumed they were wildly common.

How strange and sad.
posted by lollusc at 4:31 PM on January 29


Seems a bit early to declare them extinct, but still pretty alarming.
wherever humans doing something shitty is concerned, it's never "too early" to definitively say that, yes, we have done something incredibly shitty.
"Maybe not yet X" is not equivalent "Φ has never done Ψ."

The only human action specifically mentioned in the linked article is the creation and continued existence of shanty towns (and all their shitty shit). Perhaps if more humans thought more highly of their fellow humans, the axolotl would be at lesser risk.

Worth a try.

Axolotls were guaranteed annihilation the second our ancestors stepped foot outside of Africa.

Well I say axolotls were doooomed the nanosecond the amniotes diversified from the other tetrapods.*
 
*But you try to tell the young people of today that -- and they don't believe you.
posted by Herodios at 4:42 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Aren't these the things that if you inject them with iodine or something they turn into salamanders? Cause they are basically just made of a buncha stem cells or something?

They are the larval form of a kind of salamander, basically - they have evolved to be neotenic: they can reproduce without actually reaching "adulthood" (i.e metamorphosis into what would be their adult form). That allows them to remain amphibious and to live on smaller amounts of food.

They've evolved to do this basically by having an underactive thyroid, which does not produce enough thyroxine to trigger the metamorphosis, IIUC - so, if you inject them with iodine (or they eat enough iodine), their thyroid gland will be stimulated and the thyroxine it produces will trigger the metamorphosis.

Also, they can regenerate limbs, chunks of torso and the less fashionable parts of the brain. Which is creepy awesome.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:20 PM on January 29 [6 favorites]


They're absolutely amazing animals as well as being cute as the dickens.
This for the axolotls natural environment:

=.=
posted by BlueHorse at 6:10 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Agreed lollusc.
They are very common pets and school classroom exhibits in Australia as well.
posted by bystander at 6:57 PM on January 29


Shake and shake
the ketchup bottle,
no amphibian
then axolotl.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:00 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


if you inject them with iodine . . .they turn into salamanders
they have evolved to be neotenic
they can reproduce without actually reaching "adulthood"
That allows them to remain amphibious and to live on smaller amounts of food.
they can regenerate limbs, chunks of torso and the less fashionable parts of the brain.
They're absolutely amazing animals as well as being cute as the dickens.


Plus, the Aztecs used them to throw spears great distances.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:06 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


It doesn't take
an Aristotle
to postulate
an axolotl
Burma Shave
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:26 PM on January 29 [7 favorites]


Don't let it be forgotl
That once there was a spotl
For one brief shining moment wherein throve the axolotl
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:10 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


This is terrible news. RIP.
posted by h00py at 12:23 AM on January 30


This is sad. Hopefully they can be reintroduced someday.
posted by homunculus at 1:15 AM on January 30


Speaking of reintroductions: First Wild Beaver in 800 Years Confirmed in England?
posted by homunculus at 1:22 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


Perhaps if more humans thought more highly of their fellow humans, the axolotl would be at lesser risk.

Seems unlikely. The human race has been thinking pretty highly of itself for the past few thousand years.
posted by turbid dahlia at 1:42 PM on January 30


Perhaps if more humans thought more highly of their fellow humans, the axolotl would be at lesser risk.

Seems unlikely. The human race has been thinking pretty highly of itself for the past few thousand years


Aaaaa sa-WING!-and-a-miss.
 
posted by Herodios at 1:53 PM on January 30


.
posted by polymath at 6:57 PM on January 30


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