Neale Monks offers his advice to a reader who would like to put some plants in their Axolotl’s aquarium.
Q) I was wondering if you could suggest any plants I could put in my Axolotl’s aquarium, please? I’d prefer to use real plants rather than artificial ones.
DANIELL TRICKEY, VIA EMAIL
A) NEALE MONKS ADVISES: Axolotls are popular pets, and as amphibians go, among the easiest to keep successfully. Their chief demands are a big aquarium with good filtration, a relatively low water temperature around 18°C, and low light levels. While Axolotls don’t need feeding every day, they do get quite big (easily over 20cm) and produce a fair amount of waste. They have a tendency to accidentally swallow gravel, so are either kept in tanks with no substrate or one with smooth silica sand. Personally, I prefer a bare-bottomed tank with my adult Axolotls, simply because removing solid wastes and any pieces of uneaten food is so much easier this way. I can also remove their eggs a lot more easily if the only things I need to work around are the hollow ornaments the Axolotls use as hiding places.
Your best bets are really going to be either floating plants or epiphytes. Floating plants will block out overhead lighting really well, and since they don’t need a substrate, they’re not going to be bothered by a bare-bottomed tank and certainly won’t be uprooted by these potentially big and occasionally quite boisterous amphibians. Floating plants can grow rapidly if given sufficient light, meaning that they can absorb useful amounts of nitrates and phosphates too, helping promote good water quality. Floating Indian fern is probably the easiest floating plant to grow, along with Amazon frogbit, so those would be the two I’d think about.
Epiphytes are those plants that grow attached to things rather than in the substrate. Java fern and Anubias are your two obvious picks here, with my favourite being the latter, which handles room temperature conditions without complaint and tends to be less likely to disintegrate over time into countless smaller but less useful daughter plants in the way that Java ferns sometimes do when kept in less than ideal conditions.
But you can avoid using plants altogether. Axolotls neither need them nor enjoy them, but the choice is yours.
Axolotls dislike heat, and continual exposure to temperatures above 24°C will cause stress, even death. Room temperature is usually fine, assuming the room is reasonably cool all year around. Silver insulating bubble wrap glued to any side of the tank likely to get direct sunlight helps to keep the temperature at the right level, even in summer. Some Axolotl keepers elect to use a chiller in the warmer months, and while more expensive, these work really well.