As axolotls become increasingly popular, more and more people are keeping these interesting amphibians as pets. Considering they are labeled as critically endangered; this can be a good thing for keeping them from becoming extinct.
If you are considering keeping them as pets, you probably have a lot of questions, such as “what do axolotls eat?” In the wild, these Mexican walking fish consume nearly anything they can get into their mouths. They are completely carnivorous, meaning they only eat other living creatures, no plant matter.
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What to Feed Your Axolotl
Axolotls as pets can eat various worms; nightcrawlers, red wigglers, tubifex, black worms, blood worms, or white worms. They can also be fed daphnia, brine shrimp, ghost shrimp, or commercially manufactured pellet food.
Best Food for Axolotls
This food contains all the nutrition a juvenile and adult axolotl could need.
They are too big for baby axolotls so only feed them to your pets if they are over 5” long. This is a great option if the thought of thawing worms or feeding live worms makes your stomach do flops.
Make sure to clean up any leftovers after your axolotl has finished feeding. Leftover food can lead to bacteria build-up and changes the water balance.
These are a blend of blackworms, beef heart, shrimp, and spinach, but are still nutritionally complete for your juvenile axolotl. The cubes contain a lot of food for one axolotl, so it’s recommended to break the cubes into smaller pieces before feeding them to your pets.
Axies tend to love these soft small pellets. They are nutritionally fit for your pets, and since the pellets are very small, they are great for young axolotls all the way to adults.
Earthworms are one of the best live foods available for the juvenile to adult axolotls. They are nutritionally complete and will easily multiply if you have to desire to do so. These are organic, so no worries about chemicals in the soil they are grown in, unlike some commercial fishing bait.
Brine shrimp are perfect food for the smallest of baby axolotls. These freeze-dried cubes contain the nutrition they need and the cubes can be easily broken into smaller pieces for little mouths. Again, be sure to clean up any leftover food after feeding.
The only problem with freeze-dried shrimp is that they won’t move much. Baby axies rely on sight to hunt for food. You’ll probably have to use a pipette or baster to drop a few in front of their face to get them to eat.
Axolotls in the Wild
Wild axolotls are only found in the waters of Lake Xochimilco in Mexico. Due to overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction, these little cousins to salamanders are critically endangered.
In order to keep them as pets, people must now breed axolotls.
In their natural habitat, they will eat nearly any living creature they can get into their mouths and swallow whole. They have no real teeth so they can’t bite off or chew food.
Their diet consists of tadpoles, small fish, insects, mosquito larvae, snails, slugs, and even other axolotls if they can get them into their mouths.
As a pet, you will need to mimic their wild diet as closely as possible, depending on their stages of growth. Baby axolotls have different nutritional needs from juveniles and adults.
Fortunately, there are plenty of options available to you for all stages of growth.
Food for Baby Axolotls
If you start off with a baby axie you will need to feed them small, nutritionally packed foods.
Babies grow fast and need a lot of extra calories and fat to keep up with the constant growth. These foods include daphnia and brine shrimp, but they need to be live food.
Baby axolotls need to be fed 2 to 3 times a day, and live foods are the best way to go about this. Make sure you are getting whatever you feed your axolotls from upstanding, reputable dealers. Live foods can have parasites that can be transferred to your pets.
Raising brine shrimp or daphnia yourself helps to reduce this risk. The good news is, as your axies grow, they won’t require these types of food.
Another thing to consider when feeding live food is cleaning. Only put in enough food for them to eat in a few minutes, then clean up any leftovers.
Most live foods for babies will not live long in the environment, then they will quickly start to rot which could end up making your pet sick.
Feeding Brine Shrimp
Baby axolotls don’t have a fully developed sense of smell yet, they depend on movement to track down prey. Live brine shrimp will provide everything you need for babies, but they don’t live long in the freshwater environment that axolotls need.
Live brine shrimp are affordable, but they won’t live long in the freshwater tank. If you can, you should keep a separate small enclosure for brine shrimp, at least until your little axolotls are big enough to start eating worms and larger, less delicate foods.
Both brine shrimp and live daphnia are very tiny creatures. Axolotls spend a lot of time at the bottom of the tank, so when you drop in the tiny live feed, they may not go all the way to the bottom before dying off.
To make sure the food gets down to the baby axolotls, use a pipette or turkey baster to deposit them in front of their faces. This method can also be used to clean up any unfinished food.
Daphnia is also called water fleas because of how they look and the movements they make in the water. They are plankton that is typically available in aquarium shops because a lot of fish enjoy feeding on them.
These are great for baby axolotls. Older axies enjoy them too, though they don’t have the correct nutritional value for them.
The con to daphnia is they can sometimes carry parasites. That won’t be much of a problem if you grow them at home in your own space.
What to Feed Juvenile Axolotls
Around 2 to 4 inches, axolotls are considered juveniles. When they start reaching their next phase of growth, they will need different types of food. If you still have food from when they were babies, let them finish that off, then start transitioning them to different types of worms.
As your axies grow their diet needs will change. Though juveniles will continue to suck up any brine shrimp or daphnia, they require bigger foods. Now is the time to start introducing pellet feed, or worms.
Juveniles will also only need to be fed about once per day. As they grow, their metabolism slows down, essentially causing them to require less food.
Best Foods for Juvenile Axolotls
Now it’s time to start introducing pellet food, worms, or a combination. Earthworms such as nightcrawlers or red wigglers are completely balanced food for the juvenile to adult axolotl. Bloodworms and blackworms are great for juveniles because they are easily digested, and they don’t get as large as earthworms.
You can get both live and frozen blackworms or bloodworms. These worms are great for juveniles but may not have enough dietary value for adults.
Live blackworms and bloodworms may have to be cut into smaller pieces for your juvenile axies, which can create a bit of a mess. Also, these foods need to be cleaned up well after your axolotls are finished eating. They can make a mess of the aquarium.
When it comes to bloodworms, you’ll have to look out for them getting stuck in their gills. If you see these worms getting stuck on their gills, use a soft brush to knock them loose, or extract them with a pipette or baster.
If too many bloodworms get stuck in the gills, they could actually block oxygen consumption and drown the axie.
Earthworms can work well for feeding also, but they also need to be cut into smaller pieces. They also need to be rinsed off before being fed to your pets. The dirt that clings to these worms can dirty up the water, and you don’t want your axolotl to eat dirt that could be stuck to the worms.
Red wigglers are a good choice for juvenile axolotls because they are smaller than nightcrawlers. You may not have to cut them up into smaller pieces, and you’ll only have to feed them about one or two per day.
The only con to red wigglers is they can excrete a smell that some axolotls don’t like. If your axie will not eat red wigglers at all, this could be the problem.
To help prevent a mess you can feed your axolotls worms with tongs. Aquarium Tweezers are long enough to get close to the bottom of your tank. This way you only feed your axolotl what they can eat, meaning you have less to clean up.
Pellet foods are great because they provide all the fat and protein your pets need without having to handle or cut up messy worms. You may have to experiment a little with what your axolotl will eat though. We recommend getting soft pellets that have a strong odor to them.
Older axies have a better-developed sense of smell which will entice them to eat. A lot of axolotl owners swear by the 5-minute rule; only give your pets enough food they can eat in 5 minutes. After that time is up, clean up any remaining food so it doesn’t ruin the water balance.
This also keeps you from overfeeding your axies. Though most axolotls will only eat until they are full, there is always an exception to the rule. I have seen some eat until they couldn’t hold anymore, then regurgitate it.
Ghost shrimp are small, usually transparent shrimp that you can get at most aquarium shops. They have soft shells that won’t obstruct your axolotl’s digestive system. Ghost shrimp also have the added benefit of cleaning your tank if it’s not eaten.
They will consume leftover food and clean the biofilm in the tank, leaving everything cleaner. The only downside to ghost shrimp is they can get expensive.
Feeding Adult Axolotls
Adult axolotls don’t have to eat as often as younger ones. They will only eat once every two to three days. They can go without food for up to two weeks, but this is not recommended as it can cause undue stress to the animal.
Many axolotl owners say that nightcrawlers are the best food source for adults. They can usually eat a whole nightcrawler which will last them for a day or two. Nightcrawlers also offer all the dietary needs for an adult axolotl, meaning you don’t have to add any supplements.
Nightcrawlers are also economical and are found at many retailers. We recommend staying away from bait shops though, these worms are not healthy for your axolotls. They can be dyed with different colors to attract fish or grown in chemical-laden soil.
Get your nightcrawlers from organic growers or pet shops that sell them. You also have the option of growing your own worms. They are great in aiding composting and revitalizing soil.
Adult axolotls can also eat live fish but doing so comes with risk. Some fish can carry unseen parasites or illnesses that can be passed to your axolotl. When getting fish for your axolotl, it’s recommended to quarantine them for 2 weeks to 30 days.
Fish should be smaller than the width between your axolotl’s eyes so he can swallow it whole. They should only be offered as an occasional treat as well.
Axolotls can eat guppies, small goldfish, and feeders. It’s not recommended to keep fish in the tank with your axies. The fish will often nibble at the gills behind the axolotl’s head. They think they are tiny worms and will pick at them.
If you started your juvenile axolotl on pellets, you could certainly continue feeding your adults the same pellets. Only feed them once every few days or so and clean up any leftovers to help keep the tank clean.
Adults will also eat brine shrimp, bloodworms, blackworms, or any of the previous foods. They usually are not very picky. The only thing is these foods are either too nutrient-dense or do not carry enough for adults, so you will have to supplement with pellets or earthworms.
Here’s a Convenient Feeding Table for Axolotls
|Axolotl Life Stages
|What to Feed Your Axolotl
|How Often To Feed
|Brine shrimp, daphnia (preferably live)
|Every day; 2 to 3 times daily
|Blackworms, bloodworms, earthworms, ghost shrimp, brine shrimp, daphnia, pellets. (Live, frozen-thawed first, freeze-dried)
|Once a day; 5-minute rule
|Blackworms, bloodworms, nightcrawlers, red wigglers, pellets, brine shrimp (preferably freeze-dried), live fish (occasionally, and very small fish), and ghost shrimp.
|Once every two to three days.
Don’t Overfeed Your Axolotl
Overfeeding your axolotl or giving them large meals like whole nightcrawlers to a juvenile can cause intestinal problems. Axolotls cannot chew their food or bite off chunks so large meals can cause constipation, obstruction, or impaction.
This is one reason we don’t recommend feeding them fish very often, and we talk about cutting up large worms. Sometimes an axolotl will try to eat more than its stomach can hold. Just follow the recommendations in this guide and your axie will be a happy, well-fed pet.
That’s All Folks
Axolotls aren’t usually very picky eaters, but their dietary needs change depending on their life stage. Babies require small foods that wiggle around or make enticing movements, whereas juveniles and adults like smelly foods.
We hope this guide has helped you decide what to feed your axolotl. There are many options out there from live options to pellets, frozen, or freeze-dried cubes, make sure it is the right food for their size and you should have a happy, healthy pet for years to come.