Gravel, yes or no with Axolotls

What's best for the bottom of your Walking Fish Aquarium?



Points to Remember:


  • Use a bare bottom or nothing at all on the base
  • Gravel – fine, medium or course
  • A planted base
  • All options need to be a smooth surface
  • pH of 7.0 needed for all base options
  • Hand feed your axolotl
  • Good bacteria cultivation
  • No toxin’s possible from any base


The world of what to place on the base of your axolotl aquarium comes up often when people are looking into having an axolotl in their life. There are many viewpoints as to what to put on the bottom of the axolotl aquarium.


You don't need to put anything on it if you don't want to, the glass on the bottom of the aquarium, will be nice and gentle on the axolotl’s skin. Remembering that the axolotl has skin not scales. Another option is to go for gravel. Now I know this is immensely controversial and I have many people saying to me that the world says no to gravel.


You can certainly use sand if you want to for the softness and fine size of the particles. The problem with sand is these fine particles and also commonly in our environment (and it may be different in different parts of the world) getting a sand that has a pH of 7.0 is nearly impossible.


Axolotls do sit on the pH of 7.0 and in our environment in Australia most of the sands that you do get will sit at a pH of over 8.0. Then you need to try and get it down to 7.0, which is another challenge.



So, to use gravel or not to use gravel?


There are many millimetres sizes in gravel. The reason that many people say not to use fine gravel is because the axolotls can take it swallow the gravel. People say they can choke on it, I haven't found that in keeping axolotls for 35 years. I have bred and raised axolotls over the years. Yes, some axolotl’s will intake some gravel.


What I have found is it sits down in the base of the stomach and then they pass the gravel through. Sometimes they do need help to pass it through and you can massage it out. Now that foreign body in the axolotls body is something that we don't want so much, and it could do damage to the internal organs, that's logical.


The way we can prevent that is feeding. You teach your axolotl to feed by a human, either with tongs or by fingers. Remember if you use fingers, hands may have chemicals or toxins on them, so you want to wash them first. But if the animal does only eat head up and it is less likely that the animal is going to go scavenging around on the bottom of the aquarium looking for food and picking anything and everything up.


At our store we hand feed the axolotls. We put it down in front of their mouths because they do have very narrow sight and you don't tease them, but you just sit it down in front of their mouths, so it is available to them. The axolotl opens their mouth and take the food in. This is a training technique so it can take a little while in the beginning for new ones that arrive, to be trained in this feeding technique.




In the distribution, import and breeding facilities they use no gravel, no substrate, no anything at all on the bottom of the aquariums. It is just glass and that way they don't have to worry, and they can put the food just loosely in and the animals will pick it up as they wish.


The other option is to go for a coarser gravel, and I have actually used that option on this occurrence with the axolotl aquariums in store. The only reason is the colour I wanted, I have done different block colours for different groups of fish through the selling tanks, the colour I wanted to use for the axolotl’s was only available in a larger diameter. Plus, this gravel has a smooth surface, so it ticks that box as well.


Good Bacteria


The challenge when considering using gravel or not is that good bacteria cultivation is required in the axolotl’s environment. Good bacteria cultivation is what we want to have as much as possible to break down the waste that the fish or axolotl produces.


If we don't break that waste down, we will have ammonia, nitrate and nitrite levels increasing. Another alternative is to cultivate the good bacteria in a filter - that is not a problem at all, this will do that job for you which is what we have done in our aquarium. But we need to have that bacteria cultivation somewhere.


If you have gravel that is larger piece gravel, then you will see a lot of spaces within it. The water flows through these spaces much easier and therefore the level of good bacteria that cultivates in that gravel mass is not as high as if it was compacted, so a 3 to 5 mm gravel is a nice mat throughout.


By using a 1 to 3 mm gravel that is finer you may have the mental challenge of worrying about the animal swallowing gravel. If that is something that you worry about, certainly don't use it, it's your choice to do what's right for you and your environment. Certainly, don't use something that is not made for an axolotl, these can have a chemical that can leach toxins and potentially poison your axolotl.


Fake grass is a great example of this, please don't use it in their environment. If you have any other questions relating to keeping axolotls, please reach out and we can help and guide you from there.

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16 November 2022

Pets Galore Toowoomba

07 4632 4650

0418 721 483

8 Hodgson Street

Toowoomba Qld 4350


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