Axolotls are having a moment, and many are now being abandoned to pet shelters because owners can't take care of them. A new article in The Guardian explains that axolotls have become popular pets because they have been featured on social media such as TikTok and in online games such as Minecraft. Animal shelters are now overrun with axolotls, however. Amelia Seales, owner of one reptile and animal shelter in Dunedin, New Zealand, says she is currently caring for 2000 axolotls, after receiving a whopping 600 just last week. What's happening here? Tess McClure, writing for The Guardian, explains:
Seales said some inexperienced owners were failing to desex their pets or accidentally placing breeding pairs together in tanks. The amorous amphibians ended up "having accidental clutches and [owners are] not knowing what to do with the eggs … then ending up with literally thousands of them and not being able to find them a home," she said.
"They can produce a huge number of eggs," said SPCA science officer Alison Vaughan. "That situation can very quickly get out of control."
Axolotls are considered critically endangered in the wild, but are widely bred in captivity. Their growth has been driven partly by their popularity online, where their little faces, set in a constant grin, are well suited to memes and shareable videos.
The creatures have been a hit on TikTok, where their hashtag has accumulated 2.6bn views.
Axie Infinity, an online game where players battle cartoon axolotls, peaked at about 2.7m users in November last year. Perhaps the greatest contributor to the axolotl renaissance, however, might be Minecraft, the enormously popular children's world-building game, where the amphibians were introduced as a companion creature in 2021.
Google trend reports indicate that searches for axolotl peaked when Minecraft introduced them in July 2021, but have remained elevated since. Internationally, outlets began reporting last year that axolotls had become a hot new pet for Minecraft-playing children.
Please, folks, don't buy axolotls, no matter how much your children beg. Veterinarian Helen Beattie is quoted in The Guardian article, stating: "They're not easy pets … They've got really specific needs." They need special equipment and treatment in order to remain healthy and happy. They can also live up to 25 years, so adopting an axolotl shouldn't be done lightly or without a great deal of thought.
Instead, if you MUST have an axolotl, opt for an axolotl plush toy or something similar. If you do a Google shopping search for "axolotl," you'll find more axolotl-themed goods than you can handle—shoes, clothing, Squishmallows, toys of all kinds, mugs, throw blankets, posters, and more. I was excited to find a tiny axolotl finger puppet at Zia Records last night, so now I have an axolotl at home. I definitely get the desire for axolotls—they are so adorable with their little legs and cute weird smiles. But let's skip the real ones, please.