Billingham, E. 2017. The curious tale of axolotl enrichment. Animal Technology and Welfare 16(3), 191-194.
Axolotls can be used in scientific research to provide fertilised embryos for investigations into the genetic pathways controlling stem cell development. Breeding animals are housed for several years and environmental enrichment is required to improve welfare by providing axolotls greater choice within their aquatic environment. Therefore, there is a need to investigate the addition of enrichment. The current study has examined the effect of different types of enrichment (including rocks, plants, plastic shelters, compact discs (CDs)) on a range of behavioural measures. The objective was to understand if enrichment is engaged with and to observe behaviours which are exhibited in the environment by axolotls. There is a significant difference in female preference to the enrichment for the tunnel and all 3 other enrichments found in the comparison tests. For the males, there is only a significant difference between the tunnel and the plant. For both sexes, there is a trend in favourable enrichment. The most favoured is the tunnel, CD, rock, and the plant. A range of behaviours seen from inquisitive behaviours such as nudging and rubbing up against items especially the rock which may be due to the texture of the rock as the other objects are smooth. Different behaviours seen where they manipulate the enrichment such as moving the CD so they could sit under it and against the wall. In conclusion, different types of behaviours were seen ranging from inquisitive explorative behaviours to manipulating the enrichment. It could therefore be concluded that enrichment should serve two purposes to allow the axolotl to behave more naturally. As axolotls are not only housed singly but also in groups this should also be investigated. Further research needs to be undertaken to discover whether the enrichment causes stress to the axolotl which could be attained via stress hormone corticosterone. The tunnel is the most appropriate enrichment and therefore should be introduced into their environment.