Axolotls breathe air through their rudimentary lungs. However, axolotls’ lungs are underdeveloped compared to terrestrial animals and don’t support them for long. Axolotls live their entire adult life underwater by relying on their gills, skin, and buccopharyngeal membrane for breathing.
Let’s now understand how axolotls breathe in more detail.
Different Ways Axolotls Breathe
Like other creatures, axolotls need oxygen to survive.
However, it’s fascinating that axolotls have different breathing methods to oxygenate their blood.
Given below are the different methods used by axolotls to breathe.
Breathing through the skin.
Axolotls have thin and moist skin that allows oxygen to diffuse in the blood vessels.
This process is referred to as “cutaneous respiration.”
Cutaneous respiration, or cutaneous gas exchange, is a type of respiration in which gas exchange happens through an organism’s skin or outer integuments rather than gills or lungs.
With cutaneous respiration, oxygenated water is absorbed through the thin membrane of the skin.
The oxygen is directly diffused into the bloodstream, and carbon dioxide is released back into the water.
The slimy skin coating helps to keep the axolotl’s skin moist.
It facilitates the respiration process even if the axolotls morph into land-dwelling forms.
However, it’s not advisable to keep an axolotl out of water for too long.
Even if it can absorb oxygen from the moisture around its skin, it’s way too little to support its entire body for a long time.
Breathing through gills.
The second way axolotls oxygenate their blood is through the feather-like gills on their heads.
When axolotls wiggle their gills in the water, they are actually breathing.
The gills are feathery and increase their surface area to exchange a larger volume of gas.
While breathing through the gills, the oxygenated water flows through the membranes with capillaries known as fimbriae.
These membranes filter the oxygen and route it directly into the bloodstream.
Similarly, carbon dioxide seeps out of the membranes and gets deposited in the water.
Axolotls have gill rakers.
These ensure that no impurities or parasites get into the bloodstream from the water due to the continuous exposure of blood during the gas exchange.
The gills are the primary breathing mechanisms of aquatic axolotls.
However, once they morph into their adult form, they lose their gills, making it impossible to breathe underwater.
Buccal respiration occurs through the buccopharyngeal membrane and is similar to cutaneous respiration.
This membrane is located behind the throat of an axolotl.
The skin over the buccopharyngeal membrane opens up, allowing the oxygenated water to pass through.
As a result, the oxygen moves through the cell membrane and goes into the bloodstream.
When oxygenated water passes through the buccopharyngeal membrane, it can even get to the gills and go all the way to the sides of the fimbriae.
Breathing through lungs.
Axolotls are fully aquatic amphibians. This means they also have lungs.
The lungs are simple sac-like structures with folded pockets.
The blood vessels encircle the folded pockets with a thin membrane that allows oxygen into the bloodstream through the capillaries around the lungs and veins that transport the oxygen to the axolotl’s heart.
However, these rudimentary lungs are the last resort for axolotls.
They only breathe through their lungs when other breathing methods are compromised due to insufficient dissolved oxygen in the water.
Aside from survival, axolotls also breathe through their lungs out of playfulness.
They take a small breath of air and use it as an airbag to float themselves in the aquarium.
Can Axolotls Survive Outside The Water?
Axolotls can’t survive outside the water for too long. They are amphibians who can breathe out of the water using their lungs. However, the lungs of axolotls are underdeveloped compared to other terrestrial creatures. So axolotls remain in the water as staying out for too long can be fatal.
Axolotls have adapted to live in the water.
Although they have multiple breathing systems, including lungs to breathe air, they remain aquatic as they are in their larval stage.
Underwater, axolotls use gills to allow water to move through their tiny membranes.
These membranes filter oxygen and pass it straight to the bloodstream while pushing carbon dioxide back into the water.
Their lungs are underdeveloped and have a limited capacity to function for a few minutes outside the aquatic environment.
So they can’t support the axolotls for too long.
If an axolotl is past its young age and metamorphosed into adulthood, then this doesn’t apply.
However, it’s rare as the axolotls don’t typically undergo metamorphosis.
Instead, the axolotls exhibit a paedomorphic development mode that allows for an entirely aquatic lifecycle.
So, it’s not a good idea to take axolotls out of the water for too long.
How Long Can Axolotls Hold Their Breath Outside Water?
Axolotls are primarily aquatic, and it’s natural for them to breathe through their skin and gills.
So axolotls will rarely come out of the water to breathe through their mouths.
As amphibians, axolotls have both lungs and gills for breathing.
However, they have never lived out of the water for a prolonged duration, so it’s not natural for them to live out of water.
Axolotls can only breathe out of the water for a few minutes as they have a set of rudimentary lungs. Unfortunately, their lungs are underdeveloped compared to terrestrial animals.
Axolotls get stressed outside the water as they can’t breathe through their lungs for long.
Staying out of their aquatic environment for too long can be fatal for them.
Axolotls can also breathe through their skin, just like other amphibians.
However, the amount of oxygen processed through their skin can’t support them for too long outside the water.
Axolotls can come out of the water only for short periods. However, they can’t live outside the water for long.