The story of the axolotl is not unique to the natural world, but it is truly fascinating.
The axolotl, Mexican salamander or Mexican walking fish, is a neotenic salamander that becomes an adult and reaches sexual maturity without undergoing any biological changes or metamorphosis. In effect, axolotls don’t suffer the hangups of puberty. This state is known as ‘neotany’ and is a trait that we’ve artificially bred into our domestic dogs and cats; think about those round heads, over sized eyes and features – remind you of a human baby? It’s no coincidence.
Instead of developing lungs and venturing onto land like other amphibians, the adult axolotl remains fully aquatic, keeping its external gills and tadpole-shaped tail. They have no eyelids, barely have teeth, and have the ability to regenerate a limb, tail or appendage if it it damaged or severed. They are effectively an adult in child’s clothing.
And in a way, we all are. No matter how much we age, our childhood hangups follow us, whether we want them to or not. Humans have many neotenic tendencies, from adult women hoarding soft toys to baby-talking to each other in the throes of a new relationship. I myself am not averse to a bed-full of soft-toys.
That’s why the axolotl, and other animals that seem to have neglected ageing, are so fascinating to me. Another example is the naked mole rat, an inspiring, far-from-charming little rodent that looks like a newborn rat, has virtually no fur, doesn’t suffer the effects of ageing, and is almost immune to cancer.
What would it be like if we were all to succumb to large-scale Peter Pan Syndrome; not having to worry about bills, the nine-to-five routine and missing the last bus. When the biggest worry of your day is making sure you don’t step on the cracks in the pavement (I still do this now – in my head of course) or that you get to the biscuits before your father does.
I think we need to learn a lesson from the axolotl; carrying our childhood into later life can have surprising benefits.