PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – It is probably no surprise the dogs are the most in-demand pets in the U.S., but the second most popular choice might surprise you. Cats seem like the obvious answer, but according to recent research by All About Cats, purr-babies come in third. Parrots, rabbits, turtles, guinea pigs, and snakes all made the top 10, but they're not in that No. 2 slot. That distinction belongs to … wait for it … axolotls. Yes, according to All About Cats, the adorable salamander with the smiley face is the second most searched for pet in the U.S. All About Cats also looked at the most popular pets – other than dogs and cats -- in 30 major cities. Topping the Phoenix list? The axolotl.
Nature.com describes axolotls, which are listed as critically endangered, as "biology's beloved amphibian." The animal is named for an Aztec god. "According to legend, this 'water monster' was a god who disguised himself as a salamander to avoid sacrifice," explains National Geographic. "Nowadays, it is critically endangered in the wild because of the pollution and urban sprawl that threaten its habitat in the Mexican Basin."
While their numbers are dwindling in the wild, they're abundant in captivity. "The axolotl is a complete conservation paradox,” Richard Griffiths, an ecologist at the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK, told Nature.com in 2017. “Because it’s probably the most widely distributed amphibian around the world in pet shops and labs, and yet it’s almost extinct in the wild.”
The animal that never grows up
Also known as "walking fish," axolotls can grow to up to 12 inches, live as long as 15 years, and are relatively easy to care for. While most salamander breeds move to land and breathe with lungs rather than gills when they mature, axolotls don't. They're aquatic animals their whole lives. Although there's no snuggling with axolotls -- they should not be handled unless absolutely necessary -- The Spruce Pets says "they can be quite entertaining to watch."
"Axolotls tend to be fairly bold and are perfectly content to move about their tank as they're being watched by their humans," Dr. Lianne McLeod wrote on the website last month. "Some will come up to the side of their tank when a person is there observing them."