Axolotls are a unique type of aquatic salamander species that is found in only one place on Earth – Lake Texcoco.
As National Geographic explains, Lake Texcoco lies within the complex of canals called Xochimilco located just outside and to the south of Mexico’s capital city, Mexico City.
It is important to learn all you can about how to care for and feed your axolotl because the survival of the species itself now depends on axolotl keepers like you!
In this article, we go into detail about whether axolotl eats fish and what you need to know about feeding any type of live prey to your axolotl.
Watch An Adult Axolotl Eat a Live Fish Whole
In this short YouTube video created by an axolotl keeper, you can watch an adult Axolotl consume a Neon Tetra fish (a species commonly found in pet stores) whole.
Do Axolotl Eat Fish?
So now you know the answer to the question of doing axolotl eat fish. They sure do!
In a wild setting, it is thought that axolotls may eat just about anything they can manage to grab, hold onto, and swallow.
Sadly, the wild axolotl today is critically endangered. Scientific American explains that, by some estimates, only a few hundred axolotls may be left in their wild home territory.
This makes learning about the proper care and feeding of your pet axolotl especially important.
In the case of fish or any live prey, it isn’t so much a matter of whether axolotls can or will eat these food sources but whether they should.
Are Live Fish Safe For Axolotls To Eat?
As the Salamander Site highlights, axolotls in the wild will eat pretty much anything they can cram into their wide mouths and swallow.
But in a captive environment, you have to choose safe food to offer to your axolotl. This doesn’t always include fish.
There are a number of key reasons why feeding live fish to axolotls may not always be safe.
1. Fish can cause internal damage to your axolotl
If you are just learning about caring for your pet axolotl, you may not have yet discovered that axolotls don’t have actual teeth. All they have are little tooth stubs that are only useful to hold onto live prey so it can’t escape while they are swallowing it.
Some fish are soft-bodied and can be swallowed without danger of internal injury from spines, hard scales, or fins or tails.
However, there will always be a danger because the fish could still get caught in the gills as your axolotl is swallowing it. If this happens, you may need to take your axolotl to the veterinarian or learn how to extract the fish yourself.
This short YouTube video shows you how one keeper has learned to remove a trapped fish from their axolotl’s gills with a set of tweezers.
2. Aquarium fish or live-caught fish can carry parasites or secrete toxins
As the popular keeper site Axolotl.org explains, many aquarium fish can also be toxic to axolotls for other reasons. Aquarium fish may carry parasites or secrete chemicals from the medications or treatments in their water.
3. Fish may bully axolotls and harm them
Fish can also bully axolotls, especially when these vulnerable animals are young. An adult axolotl may measure nine to 17 inches, but a juvenile or young adult may only measure one to six inches.
The axolotl’s long, feathery, external gills and long tail are prime targets for many aquarium fish, who will nibble or actively bite at the axolotl. The reverse can also be true, so it is vital to choose your axolotl’s aquarium mates (if any) with care.
4. Fish may get stuck and cause choking or suffocation
Axolotls don’t have very good eyesight. Their main cue to hunt comes from vigorous movements, like wriggling or fast swimming.
So your axolotl may instinctively grab at anything that wiggles or moves near to its mouth, even if that is something much too large for it to safely swallow.
For this reason, you want to make sure you watch your axolotl at every feeding and make sure there are no other species in the tank that could cause your axolotl to choke or suffocate.
Parasites and Toxins Are a Big Problem When Using Live Fish for Food
As the Caudata.org axolotl keepers forum points out, many keepers have had problems with parasites in their live feeder fish.
In some cases, as the previous section here touched on, aquarium fish (whether for show or feeding) are often given medications and tank treatments that can cause axolotls harm.
These treatments and medications may contain trace metals that are toxic to axolotls. They can also cause poisoning.
Goldfish, minnows, tetras, and guppies are common feeder fishes sold at most pet stores and aquarium stores as well as online. In addition to internal parasites, feeder fish often carry bacteria and fungi that can cause significant and even fatal health issues in axolotls.
If you are breeding your axolotls, these same parasites, bacteria, and fungi can infect the eggs and cause malformation or death.
Can You Ever Feed Axolotls Fish?
At the beginning of this article we mentioned that wild axolotls readily eat fish. Captive axolotls will also enthusiastically hunt live fish whether they are meant to be food or not.
So if you don’t want your axolotl to eat live fish, the smartest option is to house your axolotl apart from any other fish you want to keep.
In addition, there are two ways to minimize the risks when feeding fish to axolotls.
1. Feed a fish pellet
One way to reduce or eliminate the risks of transferring bacteria, fungi or parasites from feeder fish to your axolotl is to opt for a fish-based pelleted food instead.
Pellet foods can offer a great backup or emergency food source just in case you are not able to get your axolotl’s favorite live foods, such as brine shrimp or earthworms.
Pellet foods can sometimes be a good way to make sure your axolotl is getting a well-rounded diet with essential vitamins and minerals as well.
And when you feed a fish-based pellet, your axolotl is eating fish protein in a form that is much safer.
Of course, hunting pellets aren’t very exciting and some axolotls won’t eat them. But you can definitely try. Always soften the pellets first so they won’t cause any abrasion when your axolotl swallows them.
2. Breed your own feeder fish
The other option if you want to feed your axolotl live fish is to breed your own feeder fish.
This way, as Water Critters points out, you can control every aspect of the health of your feeder fish and greatly reduce any risk that the fish prey may have parasites, bacteria, or fungi.
Be sure to start with healthy parent fish. Guppies are the safest choice because they are small and their bones likely won’t cause any issues with blockages or impaction when your axolotl swallows them.
When you understand both the risks and the potential benefits of feeding fish to your axolotl, you can plan nutritious, safe meals for your pet.
Live fish should always be offered as a treat or supplemental food only. This is because, for general purposes, most fish do not offer the type of complete and balanced nutrition axolotls need as adults.