The race to save Mexico's 'water monster'

Scientists think they have just five years to save the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) from extinction. This foot-long salamander, known locally as the "water monster," was an important piece of Aztec culture and diet for centuries. But now modern pollution and habitat loss have almost completely wiped the species out.

Axolotl populations have dropped a shocking 99% in the last decade, from "1,500 per square mile in 1998 to a mere 25 per square mile this year," according to a report from the Associated Press.

The increasingly rare salamanders -- now classified as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List -- face threats on all fronts. Their homes are being drained to sate Mexico City's thirsty population, and the water that's left is heavily polluted. Meanwhile, introduced species like the African tilapia have come in to not only steal the axolotl's food, but also eat its young.

The one place axolotls are doing well is in captivity, specifically in the laboratory, where scientists are studying their unique regenerative abilities. The AP says, "Axolotls have played key roles in research on regeneration, embryology, fertilization and evolution."

Too bad they can't regenerate their own habitat or their population.

It took humans just a few decades to destroy their habitat and quite possibly the entire species. Let's hope we can turn things around in time before they disappear forever.

You can read a lot more about axolotls here.

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