Not a Lot of Axolotls
The axolotl's resemblance to an alien goes beyond appearance and orthography. It can regenerate lost limbs; it spends its life in water but can breathe air when it wants to; and it has survived (thus far) in a dismally polluted habitat--Mexico City's Lake Xochimilco.
The nine-inch salamander's evolutionary quirk is that it spends its entire life in an external-gilled larval state. That suited it well in the past, but today's axolotl has to contend with wastewater from one of the world's largest cities, nonnative species that eat its offspring and food, and a persisting tradition of axolotl tamales.
Only 700 to 1,200 survive in the wild. Mexican conservationists are trying to establish refuges to protect the axolotl and to make it a symbol for nature tourism and environmental education. For the moment, however, it's easier to find an axolotl in a pet store or on a T-shirt than in the waters of Xochimilco. Sarah F. Kessler
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