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Mexico water monster may have disappeared

Story by MARK

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's salamander-like axolotl may have disappeared from
its only known natural habitat in Mexico City's few remaining lakes.

It's disturbing news for an admittedly ugly creature, which has a slimy tail,
plumage-like gills and mouth that curls into an odd smile.

The axolotl is known as the "water monster" and the "Mexican
walking fish." Its only natural habitat is the Xochimilco network of lakes
and canals - the "floating gardens" of earth piled on reed mats that
the Aztecs built to grow crops but are now suffering from pollution and urban

Biologist Armando Tovar Garza of Mexico's National Autonomous University said
Tuesday that the creature "is in serious risk of disappearing" from
the wild.

Describing an effort last year by researchers in skiffs to try to net axolotls
in the shallow, muddy waters of Xochimilco, Tovar Garza summed up the results
as "four months of sampling - zero axolotls."

Some axolotls still survive in aquariums, water tanks and research labs, but
experts said those conditions aren't the best, because of interbreeding and
other risks.

Growing up to a foot long (30 centimeters), axolotls use four stubby legs to
drag themselves along the bottom or thick tails to swim in Xoxhimilco's murky
channels while feeding on aquatic insects, small fish and crustaceans. But the
surrounding garden-islands have increasingly been converted to illicit
shantytowns, with untreated sewage often running off into the water.

The Mexican Academy of Sciences said in a statement that a 1998 survey found an
average of 6,000 axolotls per square kilometer, a figure that dropped to 1,000
in a 2003 study, and 100 in a 2008 survey.

Tovar Garza said it is too early to declare the axolotl extinct in its natural
habitat. He said that in early February, researchers will begin a three-month
search in hopes of finding what may be the last free-roaming axolotl.

The searches "on almost all the canals have to be repeated, because now we
are in the cold season, with lower temperatures, and that is when we ought to
have more success with the axolotls, because it is when they breed," Tovar
Garza said.

Alarmed by the creature's falling numbers in recent years, researchers built
axolotl "shelters" in Xochimilco.

Sacks of rocks and reedy plants act as filters around a selected area, and
cleaner water is pumped in, to create better conditions. The shelters also were
intended to help protect the axolotls from non-native carp and tilapia that
were introduced to the lake system years ago and compete with axolotls for


Source: Associated Press

Mexico water monster may have disappeared

Thursday, January 30 2014, 10:57 AM EST

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