The “Mexican walking fish”, is one of the most protected species on the planet. But it is on the verge of decline due to the loss of one of its natural habitats, Lake Xochimilco in Mexico. The Lake’s population has decreased dramatically since the early 2000s. However, the conditions have only gotten worse.
Though it’s known as the “Mexican walking fish,” or the axolotl, the Ambystoma mexicanum is a kind of salamander and not a fish. Possessing both lungs and gills, the amphibian remains in its larval state all its life.
The characteristics and purpose of the Mexican Walking Fish
The axolotls live at the bottom of the lake and rarely venture out. Among its more unique features is the fact that it can regenerate almost every part of its body. This includes the heart and the brain. These characteristics make the axolotl an interesting subject for research about regeneration.
Scientists have been trying to study their regeneration abilities in hopes of trying to replicate it for human regeneration. However, the process is quite complex. Even if regeneration is not possible, studying the genes and the abilities of the axolotls can help in developing alternative healing therapies.
The dubious future of the Axolotls
Dubbed the “Mexican Amphibian with a Mona Lisa smile” by the New York Times, the axolotl is most closely related to the Tiger salamander. It is endemic to Mexico and is not found anywhere else in the world in the wild. While there are several of them bred in captivity, the numbers found in the wild are dangerously low and almost close to extinction.
As they can only survive in clean fresh water, such as in Lake Xochimilco, the slow pollution of the lake has resulted in a loss of habitat. Recent studies have shown that the lake is full of oxygen-depleting plants and algae, apart from being polluted.
Axolotls can live up to 15 years, but this is also being reduced due to the presence of Tilapia. This Middle East-African omnivorous fish was introduced into the lake for commercial purposes. Unfortunately, it eats both the food and the eggs of the axolotl. Other fish like carp also hinder their existence.
A conservation project, The National Autonomous University (UNAM), was launched in May to help restore the ecosystem of Lake Xochimilco and its critically endangered species. Mexico is trying very hard to preserve them by building “shelters”. However, it remains to be seen if their efforts will bear the required fruit.
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