one method of keeping Axolotls in QLD
This is a huge complicated hobby, with many many different paths to success. No where does the hobby get more confused than where axo's are concerned. Even while successfully producing Axos for the pet trade, I have been constantly bombarded by people telling me I was doing it all wrong. So.... here goes nothing lol.
Axolotyls come from cold highly oxygenated water, so to replicated that in QLD a chiller is required. And of course if you can add a chiller, then thats what you want to do!
But, sometimes a chiller is not an option, and thats the scenario we are going to explore.
Theres 3 main parts to the following strategy.
1) Aggressive aeration, with a degree of redundancy -> twin airpumps running AND a backup battery airpump for use during power outages.
Aggressive aeration is needed as the warmer water cannot hold much oxygen, so we need to replace any oxygen used up by axolotl or the living microbes in filtration. Having 2 airpumps provides redundancy and means that even if one pump fails the other will keep everything alive. The battery powered aerator is insurance, and ensures that even in a disaster situation we can take care of the immediate threat to axo life. Its worth taking your time choosing the airpumps, a quiet airpump is a beautiful thing and well worth a few extra $.
2) Excessive biofiltration -> multiple mature air powered sponge filters
Like every aquarium, we need to establish microbes on our biofiltration before we start adding delicate livestock. This is especially critical with axos as any gill damage from ammonia or blood damage from nitrite will only compound the difficulty of keeping axos in warmer water. I would highly recommend purchasing ammonia and nitrite test kits, these are a very useful tool when "fishless" cycling the aquarium. This is the proccess of adding fish food before adding livestock and then tracking the rise of ammonia and nitrite, and then its fall to the desired 0ppm. By taking your time and then stress testing the aquarium with fish food + ammonia/nitrite testing, we can be sure that when we introduce and start feeding our axo we are not going to get a rude ammonia/nitrite spike surprise.
While air powered sponge filters are ugly.... they are perfect in almost every other way. They have no moving parts to break, are very cheap, reliable and provide excellent biofiltration and oxygenation. They are very easy to clean (always in a bucket of water taken from the aquarium they run on, to ensure we trim rather than destroy the good microbe colonies) and reduce the need to have electrical gear inside the aquarium. By using 2 or more, we can run them from different airpumps increasing further the redundancy.
Not taking time to "cycle" your filters is the biggest mistake people make, the second being incorrectly cleaning filters in tapwater and the third forgetting to use dechlorinator before topping up with tapwater.
3) Stable pH -> using coral sand as a substrate
Coral sand, once cleaned, makes a nice bright substrate. This is good because it means we can use lower lighting and due to the reflection on the sand, achieve a result you would need far stronger lighting to achieve on a darker substrate. Axolotyl prefer lower light so thats a plus. It will also usually be nice and rounded, which is nice for soft bodied axos to crawl over and better when they inhale it while striking for food. Coral sand is made of calcium carbonate, this means that stomach acid will dissolve it! Organic waste is often acidic, but rather than dropping the aquariums pH, it will instead dissolve a bit of the coral sand. This will hold your aquarium at a stable pH of around 7.6, ideal for the filtration microbes we are cultivating in our sponge filters to compost the raw sewrage (ammonia and nitrite) into non toxic fertilizer (nitrate and phosphate). Our testing has shown our local tapwater to be consistantly at or close to 7.6 which is excellent as it allows us to do larger water changes without the complication of having to adjust the pH of the new water to prevent pH shocking our axos!
So, good aeration, good filtration and stable pH.
There are 3 other considerations, worth investigating when using the above strategy.
Water changes to keep nitrate and phosphate diluted to prevent algae blooms.
The easiest way is to test nitrates and get into a water change routine that keeps them diluted below 80ppm. While you need a nitrate test kit to be able to test nitrates, you only need to test and record nitrates for a few weeks to have a good idea how much the food is raising nitrates by, and thus how often you need to water change to keep them below 80ppm.
Good nutrition, not just an eternity of bloodworms.
While bloodworms are often readily accepted by axolotls they are not a very nutritionally complex food and so should be part of a varied diet. While they have a reputation for being tricky to feed, as long as water quality is good they will take a surprisingly large variety of food. Live earthworms are likely their favourite but not something that's easy to keep on hand. Frozen foods such as bloodworm, brineshrimp or even beefheart, are usually taken readily. The most difficult feeding happens when freshly hatched and for optimal survival rates requires living moving food such as baby brine shrimp or baby mosquito larvae.
For adults though, you can feed a large variety of sinking high protein pellets. These are not only far more nutritionally complex than single ingredient foods like frozen bloodworms but can be loaded into auto feeders while you are on vacation. The more smelly the food the easier to introduce it, so foods marketed at catfish tend to do particularly well. Many breeders use smelly aquaculture pellets designed for use with salmon or trout. We recently tested ours with ocean nutrition colossus Q2 with great results.
Being basically frogs with tails, axolotyls are suuuuper delicate to medications. There are not many meds that wont outright murder them! One we have found to be effective and safe is Indian Almond Leaves. These seem to improve tapwater, and help prevent infections on injuries. They work by putting tannins in the water, which many are not a fan of, due to it meaning yellow water. Usually using them would risk rapidly lowering the pH but with a coral substrate buffering the water you can have tannins and a stable pH.