Axolotl.

Ax-o-lotl.

Ak-so-lo-tel.

It’s a bit of a tongue twister, but expect nothing less from this odd-looking salamander. The name “axolotl” is of Aztec origin, and it’s been interpreted over the years as “water dog” or “water slave.”

The axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), which resides in the Aquarium’s Frogs Forever? gallery, is volunteer Christine W.’s pick for May’s Staff Pick of the Month. She said she was “hooked” after seeing it for the first time years ago.

Christine W. is a volunteer at the Aquarium.

Christine W. is a volunteer at the Aquarium.

Wild axolotls are only found in a single place in the world: just south of Mexico City. But human development is encroaching on its wetland habitat, and these amphibians are now critically endangered.

The axolotl has what looks like a lion’s mane, but the frilly stuff around its head is actually three pairs of gills. It spends its life in the water, which makes the term “water slave” especially appropriate.

Christine wants to bring attention to this animal because she thinks a lot of visitors “just walk by without really looking.” Take a closer look and you’ll see this strange animal with the strange name hiding in the foliage.

Written by Karen Horak, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.

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