Playing Dead

Many animals play dead, an adaptive behavior known as thanatosis or playing possum, for many reasons. These include a defense mechanism against predators, a means for sexual reproduction, and a trick to capture prey.

Known as thanatosis, animals that play dead only take on the appearance of being dead by staying as still as possible.

Do axolotls also play dead? Yes, axolotls have also been observed to play dead in their tanks! They remain so still that their owners think they are dead but aren’t.

If your Axolotl has played dead before, then you should read on.

You will know the possible reasons for its behavior and other signs that it’s just playing possum.  

Possible Reasons For Playing Dead

Adult axolotls will eat their eggs, and their eating reflex can be triggered by movement.

Indeed, if you’re breeding axolotls in an aquarium, you must separate the eggs and the adults before the eggs hatch!

Otherwise, you will see the eggs slowly being decimated by the adults.

Younger and smaller axolotls will play dead in the presence of older and larger axolotls, too, as a survival mechanism.

This is true even when the baby axolotls are bigger and stronger and, thus, more able to defend themselves against others.

The bottom line is that axolotls will play dead to escape being eaten in both rough and aquarium conditions!

Axolotls also play dead in aquarium conditions even when no predators are around. The instances when they do so include:

  1. When their tanks are suddenly jolted or lifted from the stand
  2. When their tank mates, such as their siblings, knock into them for any reason, usually during feeding
  3. When the water in their tanks are being changed
  4. When they are being transferred from their tanks to another container for any reason

This is one of the reasons why axolotls should be handled as little as possible.

They become easily stressed and, thus, play dead when others touch them.

Observable Behaviors When They Are Playing Dead

There’s a significant difference between a dead axolotl and an axolotl playing dead.

The former will curl up its body while the latter will remain immobile while laying down on its sides or back.

In some cases, an axolotl playing dead will float in the water and let the current carry its body.

Most axolotls playing dead will stay still anywhere between 10 and 40 seconds. You can wait for 60 seconds and see if it moves again.

Going back to axolotls floating in the water, keep in mind that axolotls like to stay in the gravelly bottom of their tanks.

When they cannot go back to the bottom, they may have health issues.

The most common bacterial infection in their gut is swallowing gravel but can’t dislodge it.

The bacterial infection causes the gas to build up in the gut, thus, the floating behavior.

This can also be caused by axolotls swallowing a large amount of air into their gut, usually when the water’s too warm. 

Check that the tank’s water temperature is at 25°C, the ideal temperature.


Taking care of axolotls requires specific Information that books on aquariums cannot provide.

It will help if you read informational books like Axolotl. Facts & Information before starting an axolotl aquarium.

You don’t want to kill your new pets with misinformation.