Mexico's axolotl 'water monster' may be extinct in the wildS

The iconic axolotl — a salamander-like creature capable of extraordinary regenerative abilities — has disappeared from its only known natural habitat in Mexico's few remaining lakes.

These aquatic creatures are basically salamanders that never grew up. Also known as 'water monsters,' they're a neotenal species whose adult members never lose their gills, allowing them to remain perpetually underwater. They're also unique in that they can regenerate their limbs, including less vital parts of their brains. It's for this reason that they're studied extensively by scientists, which is why many of them are bred and live in labs throughout the world.

But sadly, they may now be extinct in the wild. Its only known habitat, Lake Xochimilco, is suffering from extensive pollution and urban sprawl. The Telegraph reports:

Biologist Luis Zambrano of Mexico's National Autonomous University says the most recent three-month attempt to net axolotls found not one of the creatures. He says researchers are planning a second three-month hunt for the creatures, which still survive in labs and breeding tanks...

...The Mexican Academy of Sciences said in a statement that a 1998 survey found an average of 6,000 axolotls per square kilometre, a figure that dropped to 1,000 in a 2003 study, and 100 in a 2008 survey.

Tovar Garza said it is too early to declare the axolotl extinct in its natural habitat. He said that in early February, researchers will begin a three-month search in hopes of finding what may be the last free-roaming axolotl.

The searches "on almost all the canals have to be repeated, because now we are in the cold season, with lower temperatures, and that is when we ought to have more success with the axolotls, because it is when they breed," Tovar Garza said.

More at The Telegraph. Image: Cen.