'Water Monster' About to Die Off

Mexican salamander suffers in polluted canals and lagoons
By Laurel Jorgensen,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 2, 2008 6:18 PM CST
A mural painted by graffiti artists called "Colectivo Axolotl" is seen near Xochimilco Lake in Mexico City, Wednesday Oct. 8, 2008.    (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
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(Newser) – Mexico’s “water monster"—a mere foot long but once central to the Aztec legend and diet—is close to dying out, the AP reports. Axolotls have long endured in the polluted Venice-like canals of Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City, but baby-gobbling fish and ebbing water quality are killing them off. Scientists are in a rush to save them, but can't agree on how.

The salamanders currently thrive in laboratories, where scientists marvel at their ability to regenerate lost limbs; they have been crucial to studies of embryology and evolution. Their extinction, says a biologist, “would not only be a great loss to biodiversity but to Mexican culture." A local fisherman is more specific: "I used to love axolotl tamales," he says with a laugh.