Consider the axolotl

I am talking of frogs and toads and salamanders. That sort of thing. That’s what you’re getting this time out.

Amphibians.

And because I don’t know where else to start and because I don’t know how much you’ve already heard, I will review the amphibian life cycle. It goes like this: They all start out as eggs. No great shouts of surprise there, I suppose. And from these eggs hatch larvae, which might not surprise you, either, or at least won’t from now on, now that I’ve told you.

Tadpoles are larvae, but then they change. Metamorphosize. They grow arms and they grow legs and they climb up out of the water. Hop up out of the water, rather, if you’re a stickler for verbs. Once up here with the rest of us, they eat and they sleep. Meet other amphibians. Find jobs. Read literature. Ponder the meaning of life, maybe, I don’t know.

But now consider the axolotl.

The axolotl – stubborn little bugger – is an amphibian who refuses to change. He remains as a larva all his life. He’s underwater. He has gills. (He or she does, or maybe something else entirely. Amphibians don’t have hardened notions of sex and gender, unlike some other species we could name.)

Scientists considered the axolotl.

They considered it and they considered it and then, one day, one scientist had an idea. A eureka moment. The scientist pumped a little axolotl full of amphibian hormones. The sort of hormones that trigger metamorphosis in other amphibians.

And then the axolotl, well, he changed into an extinct variety of salamander and climbed up out of the water where, much to his inevitable disappointment, he could never meet any other salamanders like himself.

This is how I imagine what came before:

Millions of years ago, our axolotl’s great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather617 climbed up out of his pond with his family and promptly got gobbled up by some new species of rodent. It was an ambush! A bloodbath. Not one slimy salamander left anywhere outside of a rodent’s digestive tract. (So this is sort of your fault.)

But back in the pond were Cousin Brenda and Little Boy Willy. Runts. Freaks. Mutants. Their cracked-up genes wouldn’t even let them metamorphosize.

And they were the only survivors. Forever larvae, at least until our scientist came along with his needleful of iodine.

I’ve considered this and considered this. I consider it delightfully shocking. Strange. Alien.

I wish I could think up a story with these ideas. Like maybe we’re all just larval angels, stunted, unable to develop our wings… or consciences. 

Comments

  1. A friend of mine actually keeps a few axolotls as pets, and this is something that came up in discussion before. Apparently it also triggers if they're forcibly kept out of water for too long?
    There's definitely something deep-dark fantasy about this.

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    1. I didn't know that. I just know I was reading about it and you're right - there's a real primal creepy feeling that hit me at first.

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  2. Well I think the Axwhatchamacallit is cute just the way he/she/it is. Like so many of us who never quite make it to 'normal'. I know whereof I speak....I never made it to 'normal' and I'm cute as hell.

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    Replies
    1. I am on a mission to delete the word "normal" from my life in favor of the word "average." So far, I'm doing badly, in part because of discussions of contemporary politics, which have really not been normal lately.

      Delete
  3. These are such wonderful and confusing creatures. After reading this, there's so much I want to know about these little guys, but I don't want to axolotl questions.

    ...I'll go ahead and show myself out.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I was at an event for work yesterday when your pun popped into my head. I started giggling. Again.

      That's the dumbest joke I've ever heard and I laugh every time I read it.

      Delete
  4. Axolotls taste like chicken...

    Reliable NASA sources, report that axolotls are proof that there is life and water on Mars.

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    1. I assume they can use those feathery gills for interplanetary travel.

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  5. I sort of resemble this story, as I only developed far enough to hold a job and play the electric guitar and stayed right there while decades passed without mortgages, children, or many other characteristics of modern American adulthood...
    When I was a kid I saw a movie about axolotls that speculated that they might hold the key to immortality, and it never occurred to me until right now that I may have tried to take up their strategy.
    I don't think it worked.

    -Doug in Oakland

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The immortality thing would be because the hormones/genes that lead to aging, decay, baldness, and brittle bones never get triggered?

      That's a cool idea.

      I've read that there might be an upper limit (200 years?) to life extension because chromosomes only last so long.

      But it still seems like something I should have been able to get a story out of.

      Delete
    2. Telomeres.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telomere
      They're like the end-caps of chromosomes, and some do speculate that they might be the key to extending human lifespans.
      Hey, has anyone looked at the telomeres of axolotls? Maybe that could be your story...

      -Doug in Oakland

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    3. I've seen the TV ads. I'll bet the axolotls are really young in telomere years!

      Delete
  6. What percentage of humans is axolotl?

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    Replies
    1. My bet is that it's been a while since humans and axolotls have shared a common ancestor.

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  7. It wouldn't matter. People would find reasons to argue over which developed consciences were correct or which length of wing was acceptable in their group. Haha

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    1. We do like arguing, don't we? And that's really amazing since most of the people I know (and me) don't really know anything. At all.

      Delete
  8. Oh, as someone who gets excited for every geek genre movie which is a symptom of arrested adolescence, I'm sure. I get you, axolotl, I get you.

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    1. I remember a television review from back 20 years ago: "Ally McBeal is a show about grown-ups who act like children; South Park is a show about children who act like grown-ups."

      (And yes, I do realize it's strange to remember a tv review for 20 years, but I remember record reviews from 30 years ago, so that ship has already sailed...)

      Delete
  9. wow-I never had heard of this little creature before. Thanks and have a lovely week!

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    1. Hi, Kathe! I had heard of it but had never realized the weirdness behind it until last week. It had to be written about...

      Delete
  10. For a moment I thought you said Quetzalcoatl.

    ReplyDelete
  11. How did it know it had to smile before having its picture taken? Spooky creature.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe it's just always happy. Or hiding something.

      Delete
  12. Awww, and he's adorable too.

    Have a fabulous Awww Monday. ☺

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    1. Thank, you, Sandee.

      He does have quite the smile.

      Delete
  13. Your final concept of Larval Angels was worth the entire story alone!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. I wasn't sure about this one, but people seem to be getting things out of it so maybe I'll have to try a weird reptile next...

      Delete
  14. ...he changed into an extinct variety of salamander and climbed up out of the water where, much to his inevitable disappointment, he could never meet any other salamanders like himself.

    Whoa, talk about an existential crisis.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No kidding.

      "There's someone out there for everyone, right?"

      "Well, no, probably not for you, unfortunately."

      Delete
  15. Red blames the Aztecs. When in doubt, blame the Aztecs.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. If it's got an x in the middle of the word, the Aztecs are probably to blame.

      In an older blog, I had an imaginary place called "Temixoch." The Aztecs were to blame for that word as well.

      Delete
  16. Replies
    1. Once in a long while, you might. Depending on how much you already know, of course. Results may vary.

      Delete
  17. Well, I think he/she is adorable!!!

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    Replies
    1. Yes, the gills form a kind of natural frill to really liven up the overall look!

      Delete
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    ReplyDelete
  19. I always knew there was reason why I love frogs--they are great readers, obviously.

    This was brilliantly written, Harry. I saw it in my heart's eye and it nearly broke my heart. Poor thing, walking out of what it always knew just to find itself alone. Not cool. Not cool at all.

    I wonder if anyone had figured out a way to turn the scientists into larva.

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    1. Thank you. I usually have to turn something like this into an actual story, but this is just so weird, it could stand on its own. Truth being stranger than fiction and all...

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