Biologists Can't Find Mexico's 'Water Monster'

Leading to fears the axolotl has gone extinct in nature

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 29, 2014 3:18 PM CST | Updated Feb 2, 2014 5:40 PM CST

(Newser) – The disappearance of a "water monster" sounds like a good thing—but in this case, it's not. The salamander-like axolotl has but a single habitat, the Xochimilco network of lakes and canals in Mexico, and researchers spent four months in skiffs trying to net the "water monster" last year. Their haul: zero axolotls. Biologist Armando Tovar Garza said last week that the creature "is in serious risk of disappearing" from the wild, as the garden-islands around Xoxhimilco's murky channels have increasingly been converted to illicit shantytowns that send untreated sewage into the water.

It's not entirely shocking news: The Mexican Academy of Sciences has surveyed axolotl populations, and in 1998 found an average 6,000 per square kilometer, a figure that dropped to 1,000 in 2003 and 100 in 2008. Tovar Garza says the axolotl can't be declared extinct in its natural habitat just yet. (The AP reports some axolotls do live in aquariums and research labs, but that's not an ideal habitat, in part because of interbreeding.) Early this month, researchers will set out on another three-month search for the creatures, and hope that the cold season—which is when the axolotls breed—will bring success.

In this 2008 file photo, a salamander-like axolotl, also known as the water monster and the Mexican walking fish, swims in a tank at the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City.
In this 2008 file photo, a salamander-like axolotl, also known as the "water monster" and the "Mexican walking fish," swims in a tank at the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City.   (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File)
This 2008 file photo shows a canal in Xochimilco Lake in Mexico City.
This 2008 file photo shows a canal in Xochimilco Lake in Mexico City.   (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File)
An Axolotl salamander, or Ambystoma mexicanum, swims in a tank at the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City, Sept. 27, 2008.
An Axolotl salamander, or Ambystoma mexicanum, swims in a tank at the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City, Sept. 27, 2008.   (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
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