Despite being a common pet and beloved cultural icon, the grinning amphibian is nearly extinct in the wild.
Amphibians are not often considered charismatic. The axolotl is different.
With its ear-to-ear grin, pink feathery headdress of gills and frantic underwater dance, this amphibian has captivated generations of admirers. Once revered by Aztecs, today the axolotl appears in many forms. It is a symbol for Mexican national identity in anthropologist Roger Bartra’s book La Jaula de la Melancolia (The Cage of Melancholy); Mexican muralist Diego Rivera includes axolotl swimming near a male figure’s genitals—the center of creation—in his mural “Water, Origin of Life.”
You may have heard of the axolotl because its image is so ubiquitous—and so, it seems, is it. Millions of the creatures thrive around the world. The axolotl is a popular pet, particularly in Japan.