Thursday, 18 June 2009
Golden axolotl ("Slash")
Ambystoma mexicanum (Shaw, 1789)
Ambystomidae; Caudata; Amphibia; Chordata
Aquarium at home
Yesterday I found my one and only axolotl, Slash, dead in its tank. I'm still a bit grief-stricken; apart from my cats (Scarlett, Sapphire and Dolly), Slash has been my longest lasting pet, and had been a constant joy.
I first acquired Slash in January 2005 and kept him in a tank in my bedroom. It had always been a dream of mine to own axolotls, and had planned to get a pair and call them Axl and Slash after two of the members of Guns 'n' Roses. Slash loved to watch me play guitar, and had an ear for good music. He would approach people, in his own sluggish manner, when they went to the tank to view him. At the end of that year, I acquired another two axolotls, who I named George and Mildred (after the 70s comedy spin-off), both fully grown adults. I bought a brand new tank for them and they lived together peacefully, for a while.
I thought Slash might like a playmate, but knew he/she (still not sure!) might be too small for George and Mildred, as they were twice his size (I'll stick with Slash being male, 'cause I'm just used to it). I decided to get an albino African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis). As soon as Slash noticed the newcomer, he took a bite, and then another. That moment is on film. Needless to say I quickly removed Slash and transported him to the other tank, leaving the frog (then unnamed, but soon to be Elaine) on her own.
Elaine got a tankmate in the form of Kitchener (both named after Young Knives songs). Slash got on well with George and Mildred, as he had grown somewhat in that time. Slash got on especially well with Mildred, both of them resting in the same pot. Then things began to change. In mid-2007 I acquired a mussel and, hoping it would help keep the tank clean, introduced it to the axolotls' tank. I don't think Mr. Mussel had anything to do with it now, but it sure was co-incidental; Mildred started going crazy and was biting both Slash and George. Slash escaped with relatively few marks, but George had three legs missing and most of the toes on the one remaining leg were bitten off too. His tail had been truncated and gills mutilated. To top it off, Mr. Mussel was eaten! Mildred was shipped off to a pet shop and I kept a close eye on George.
It was in early 2008 that George passed away, probably from a combination of starvation and asphyxiation. He wasn't eating and I hadn't seen him eat for months. Slash was left on his own for a long while. This was until I moved him to his original tank and got him a pair of new playmates, a pair of goldfish, named Carassius and Auratus, after the scientific name for the goldfish. Auratus must've been ill when I purchased it and it died after only a few days. Carassius and Slash got on rather well, until I noticed Carassius sometimes taking little bites out of Slash's gills and tail. Examining his body a bit post-mortem, I noticed a few sores, probably also made by the goldfish.
I'm now left with a Senegal bichir (Polypterus senegalus) called Polly, a bristlemouth catfish (Ancistrus sp.) called Taka and a leopard pleco catfish (Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps) called Gibbons, as well as Carassius, the baby newt and the cats. I have more dead pets than living ones in my collection now, as I have kept the bodies of several newt tadpoles (smooth, palmate and Alpine), both Xenopus toads, a mottled catfish (Chrysichthys ornatus), a black ghost knifefish (Apteronotus albifrons), George and now Slash. I've kept them in case I ever want to carry out post-mortems or use tissue samples for molecular analyses. In some people's eyes, keeping dead pets in a glass jar in a glass cabinet might make me morbid, or even creepy, but it's the scientist in me.
Damn, the Mexican cactus pot in Carassius' tank looks completely out of place now. I'll have to get something else Mexican to live with it.