How Long Can Axolotls Remain Out of Water?

The fascinating creatures known as axolotls do indeed belong to the salamander family meaning that they are amphibians. But unlike, other relatives, they do not metamorphose into amphibians that adapt to land life. They are and remain aquatic creatures.

In fact, their skeletal structure remains more fragile being cartilage-based as opposed to their developing bones. They stay in a juvenile-gilled physical form for their entire lives. They actually share very little with land-loving amphibians.

How Long Can Axolotls Remain Out of Water

Do Axolotls Breathe Air?

Your axolotl can breathe air, but they do not do so efficiently. They do not develop this capability. They cannot survive out of water for an extended period. Axolotls require an aquatic environment for survival.

While they may come to the water’s surface and occasionally take a breath, especially if there is diminished oxygen in the tank’s water. But don’t be fooled, these are underwater life forms.

 If you notice your pet gulping air at the water’s surface, this may be an indication that something is amiss in the tank. Check your air pump or consider installing one if you don’t have one.

Can an Axolotl Remain on Land?

No. These creatures are aquatic pets that will spend their entire life in water. They can stay out of water for a very brief period because they are capable of breathing air, but they will not survive outside a watery environment.

The Axolotl’s Physical Need for Water

Like other Salamander species, the Mexican “walking fish” or axolotl begins life as a translucent, tiny egg. They eventually hatch and become tadpoles that have gills and fin-like tails.

Other Salamander species will, as they mature, transform these features, developing lungs and gradually leaving the water for land.

Axolotls never develop beyond the larval stage. They maintain morphological features that are designed for a watery habitat. They do develop lungs, hence maturing internally to the next developmental stage, but they do not mature to the next stage externally.

Because Axolotls remain in a juvenile form for their entire lifespan, their skin and gills need to be submerged in water. Gills are used for oxygen intake and gas exchange.

Axolotl’s gills

The gills are located on the axolotl’s head and contribute to this gas exchange. They can go for quite some time without using their lungs to breathe because they rely on their gills if the water’s oxygen content is sufficient.

Your pet’s skin is very thin featuring cutaneous blood vessels right beneath the skin’s surface. This thinness is exactly what facilitates oxygen in the water to pass quickly into your pet’s blood and consequently throughout the body sustaining life.

This same mechanism allows the carbon dioxide produced through respiration to remove itself outwards from the body. 

To function efficiently, both the axolotl’s gills and thin skin share a common requirement: they need to be underwater. For this reason, you will rarely see your pet rise to the water’s surface to breathe using its mouth.

Axolotls can go for months without using their capacity to breathe because there is an exchange of gas continuously.

Also, consider that an axolotl has a kind of slimy covering on its skin. This slimy coat functions as a barrier and defends your pet from viruses and bacteria.

When you remove an axolotl from the water, the viscous covering quickly dries reducing your pet’s natural defenses against bacterial infection or viral attack. Should you axolotl sustain an infection, it can prove to be fatal.

What Happens When an Axolotl Is Removed from Water?

If you need to remove your axolotl for a veterinary exam or to clean your tank, the oxygen in your pet’s blood will gradually decrease and become depleted.

While this happens, the waste product of carbon dioxide begins to accumulate. They will be able to breathe out of water for a short time to take in some oxygen, but this is not sustainable for long.

As the oxygen supply in the blood depletes and the carbon dioxide increases to poisonous levels, this process risks damaging your pet’s cells and organs. if it continues unabated, your axolotl will die.

What If I Need to Remove My Axolotl from Its Tank?

Even if your pet axolotl is an amphibian, it will not survive outside of its natural water habitat for very long.

Even if you remove your pet from the water for just a few minutes, it can have an adverse effect on your salamander. For this reason, if you can avoid removing your axolotl from its tank, you should do so.

Remove My Axolotl from Its Tank

Nonetheless, there may be times when you cannot avoid removing your axolotl from its tank, so you need to minimize your pet’s time out of water.

The biggest challenge happens when you need to remove your pet because you need to clean its tank and change the water.

When cleaning your pet’s tank, position another tub or container full of water nearby so that you can quickly transfer your axolotl from its tank to the temporary container.

Ensure that the temporary tank has a sufficient amount of water and keep handling your pet to a minimum. Sometimes axolotls will become frightened and escape or jump from a tank or container. For this reason, it’s recommended that tanks have coverings.

Put Axolotl in temporary tank

If you prefer to avoid moving your pet, you can opt to change part of the tank’s water weekly. Often experienced axolotl parents will change a third of the tank water weekly and choose to clean the tank thoroughly only once a month.

Should you choose this method, use freshwater testing kits to monitor the levels of toxins in the water. This will help you decide when changing the water is absolutely necessary. 

How Long Can My Axolotl Remain Out of Water?

Your pet axolotl cannot stay out of water for very long. As soon as they leave their aquatic habitat, their skin will begin to dry. They will gradually run out of the oxygen that is vital to their survival.

Each axolotl is unique, so some may be stronger and tolerate non-aquatic conditions better than others. However, in most cases, axolotls cannot survive outside of a watery habitat for much longer than an hour, and the out-of-water environment should be damp.

There is no specific time rule regarding how long an axolotl can remain out of its aquatic habitat, but your pet’s health may be compromised within minutes of it leaving the water. The longer they remain out of the water, the more time they may require for recovery. Some axolotls may never recover.

So, while the axolotl does have a limited capacity to breathe outside of its watery habitat, the long-term effects may be negative and irreversible.

The Bottom Line

People may assume that because an axolotl has both lungs and gills, it can survive equally in water or on land. This is not so. They are aquatic creatures that can in an emergency briefly use their lungs.

Avoid removing your axolotl from water if you can help it. Only remove them for a tank cleaning or for a veterinary visit. Also, avoid handling them if possible. Axolotls are fascinating and intriguing pets that are better observed than touched.

Elizabeth Smith
Elizabeth Smith is an American Italian freelance writer living outside a small town on the island of Sicily in southern Italy. She resides on a country hillside with her husband, two cats, and six dogs. Both she and her husband dedicate a portion of their free time to studying their canine family. Elizabeth has completed courses as both a dog handler and dog trainer and in canine first-aid. She is also part of a local volunteer group in support of stray and abandoned dogs.

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