What Kind Of Substrate For Axolotl? What Works And What To Avoid

Axolotl are one of the most fascinating animals you will ever put in an aquarium.

They are neotenic salamanders meaning that they sexually mature when still in their larval stage and never actually convert into their terrestrial form. They are native to Lake Chalco and Xochimilco in Mexico.

However, urbanization is shrinking its small native range. Nonetheless, they reproduce relatively easily even when in captivity and their ability to regenerate their tail, limbs and external gills is of scientific value.

They are able to attain a full-size range of 12 inches while some can exceed. They also possess a typical larval caudate body form with a salamander-type body, external gills, and a crest cross their dorsal surface that extends into their tail. Healthy individuals usually have a thick and robust build.

So, what kind of substrate should be used for Axolotl? We would advise using an aquarium safe sand such as Super Naturals aquarium sand.  Axolotl can and will ingest gravel and small rocks that are smaller than their head, this can lead to gut problems, blockages, and even death.  If you want to use a larger substrate, make sure it’s too large to fit in the adult Axolotl mouth.  Read on if you’d like to find out more about axolotl substrates.

If you want more information on Axolotl’s, take a look at our Axolotl care guide.

What Kind Of Substrate For Axolotl? Special considerations

Captive care for axolotls is relatively easy however there are certain factors that need to be taken into consideration for their long-term health. One of the most important factors that need to be considered is temperature. They are cold-water animals hence prefer very low temperatures.

This might seem very odd for a country like Mexico that is known for its relatively high heat. However, the lakes in which the salamanders are found are in very high altitudes and therefore cooler. High temperatures for an extended period of time is very stressful and can lead to illness or death.

Temperatures that range between 70 degrees are ideal since warm water has a tendency to hold less oxygen. Presence of adequate aeration makes the difference between healthy and unhealthy axolotls.

The substrate is another very important factor that is often overlooked.  Axolotls are not like fish which just swim around the aquarium. They need somewhere to grip at the bottom hence a bare-bottom aquarium will not be very ideal for axolotls. Bare-bottom will result in sores on their toes and unnecessary stress.

Gravel is not an ideal substrate for an axolotl aquarium as their small nature makes it easy to be swallowed and can lead to major health problems. The most ideal substrate is sand due to its fine nature. Even if swallowed it can pass through their system without causing any health problems.


Compatibility is one of the most frequented questions when it comes to aquatic animals. Most of the keepers of axolotl keep them solitary with no other type of animals due to a number of reasons. One of the reasons is that they are very slow in nature and they have external grills which will make an easy target for fish. Axolotls are nocturnal animals which means that they can make an easy meal of sleeping fish during the night. It is very hard to find an animal that is compatible with axolotl as one can be aggressive over another.


400;”>Feeding axolotls is relatively easy as they are carnivorous hence prefer meaty foods. The size of the food they eat varies depending on the size of the animal. Pellets that are of high quality provide a well-balanced diet as well as salmon and trout pellets. Other types of food for axolotls include meat, fish, frozen foods, chopped earthworms as well as other types of foods. It is highly recommended to provide them with the appropriate kind of food as uneaten food will rot and lower the quality of the water.

Tank setup

The setup of an aquarium is largely a matter of preference. There are different sizes of tanks where axolotls are kept. Axolotls range in sizes from the very young to adults with a varying length of 12 inches or even more. The very young are often kept in a standard 10-gallon tank while the very large once require a 20-gallon tank.

During the day the salamanders prefer to go into hiding hence you will need to provide them with a place to hide. The hiding place can be anything that provides shelter, for instance, PVC pipes, stacked rock, hollow ceramic rocks or hollow ceramic aquarium. Any form of decoration is acceptable in the aquarium as long as it is smooth without any pointed or sharp edges that would cause injuries to the animals.

The number of hiding places should be more than the number of axolotls in order to reduce the risk of aggressive behavior. They are nocturnal animals hence bright lighting will be very stressful for the salamanders.

Filtration is very tricky for axolotls since some of the rules that are applied in a fish aquarium do not necessarily apply for axolotls. It is very obvious that adequate filtration will help to keep the water clean and healthy. They will find high flowing water very stressful hence consider providing slow-moving water. A sponge filter is great since they provide effective filtration while creating a relatively slow flow of water.


One of the most spectacular aspects of axolotls is the wide array of colors. They are available in a wide array of colors ranging from gray to dark-olive base with some shades of gray and black spots. The forms of albino that are available include gold and white. White axolotls are evenly colored with pink eyes while the gold has yellow blotches. One of the rarest types is those that are white in color with black blotches. Scientific researchers have been able to genetically modify the pigments of axolotls to make them glow green under LED lights.


Breeding of axolotls is very easy as the males have a swollen cloaca while the females have a smooth and less pronounced cloaca. Breeding maybe if the axolotls are kept in a room that has varying temperatures throughout. Once triggered to breed the males will produce spermatophores as small packets of sperms while the females will pick the small packets of sperms through their cloaca. The females will later lay eggs which will later hatch into offspring.

Aquascape Substrates

Aquascaping is simply the art of creating an underwater landscape. Taking care of axolotls is very different from taking care of fish and other aquatic animals. A lot of planning needs to be taken into consideration. Keep it in mind that it’s an axolotl tank hence everything that you put in it has to meet its requirements.

Gravel is not a very good substrate as it is known to cause health hazards. There are plenty of substrates that can to be used. Using an aquarium without a substrate will limit the type of plants that you can be kept. The best solution is to use plant-specific substrate such as the red sea or flora base that is designed specifically to support plant life. They possess the following benefits. They are very small and soft hence no impaction risk. They contain nutrients for plant growth. They do not possess toxic substances and they do not alter the water chemistry in a hazardous way.

In case you choose to use plant-specific substrate then there is one thing you need to know. Plant specific substrates are not cheap however they are very good for plant growth and will provide a much safer and attractive base for your tank. You need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when laying down your substrate. 

Make sure you cover the substrate with larger pebbles that cannot be ingested by the Axolotl!

Sand Substrate

Alternatively, you may consider using sand substrate is it is the best and most affordable. Sand is basically made up of minerals and pieces of rocks that are as a result of erosion and weathering of rocks. Sand composition varies from one place to another and depends on the composition of the rocks. The most common constituent of sand is local rocks.

So far silica-based sand is the most suitable for an axolotl aquarium. Marine sand should not be used since it causes changes in the hardness and alkalinity of water. Arkose is sand with a high content of feldspar that is derived from weathering and erosion in a nearby granite. Its solubility is negligible hence toxicity by aluminum is minimum.

Natural black sand is mainly comprised of washed and sifted sand. They are available in different sizes and grades. Silica and quartzite sand is very safe as long as they have not come into contact with Portland cement or lime. Play sand is a very economical option for most individuals however it will need to be washed and sifted thoroughly to remove any toxic substances. The sand will also need to be tested with magnet for the presence of any iron oxides.

Sands that are traded for construction or those that designed for swimming pool use should be avoided at all times as they contain chemical substances that will not be safe for an aquarium. Commercial sands that are sold for freshwater use in an aquarium are completely safe. However, you should not opt for sand that is designated for terrestrial enclosures or reptiles safe as they can wreak havoc to the quality of the water.

Axolotls do not like bright light hence flora will be the best remedy for their hideout. When it comes to choosing plants for your aquarium make sure that you go for plants that can withstand low light and very low temperatures.


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