Axolotl Aztec's 'water monster' near extinction
Strange little creature full of mystery and legends of our ancestors.
Beneath the tourist gondolas in the remains of a great Aztec lake lives a creature that resembles a monster — and a Muppet — with its slimy tail, plumage-like gills and mouth that curls into an odd smile.
The axolotl, also known as the "water monster" and the "Mexican walking fish," was a key part of Aztec legend and diet. Against all odds, it survived until now amid Mexico City's urban sprawl in the polluted canals of Lake Xochimilco, now a Venice-style destination for revelers poled along by Mexican gondoliers, or trajineros, in brightly painted party boats.
But scientists are racing to save the foot-long (30-centimeter-long) salamander from extinction, a victim of the draining of its lake habitat and deteriorating water quality. In what may be the final blow, nonnative fish introduced into the canals are eating its lunch — and its babies.
The name "Axolotl" comes from the Aztec language, "Nahuatl". One of the most popular translations of the name connects the Axolotl to the god of deformations and death, Xolotl, while the most commonly accepted translation is "water-dog" (from "atl" for water, and "xolotl", which can also mean dog).
Prior to the growth of Mexico city in the basin of Mexico, the Axolotl was native to both Lake Xochimilco, and Lake Chalco. Of these two high altitude freshwater lakes, only the remnants of Xochimilco as canals can be seen today.