Flagship amphibian becomes face of new Mexican banknote

Olivia Miller
Axolotl by Pixabay

The new Mexican 50 peso banknote features an image of the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), one of the most intriguing and unusual amphibians in the world.

This news has been welcomed by Professor Richard Griffiths and Dr Ian Bride from Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE). They collaborated with Mexican partners from the Universita Autónoma Metropolitana and local community organisations between 2002 and 2007 on a Darwin Initiative-funded project designed to raise the profile of the plight of the axolotl and promote it as a flagship species for the conservation of its biodiversity-rich wetland home. Dr Bride said:

‘The notaphilistic herpetologists amongst us will be extremely excited to learn that the new Mexican 50 peso banknote features an image of the axolotl. Their partial metamorphosis and remarkable ability to regrow toes – even entire limbs – has attracted considerable interest from medical laboratories over many years, alongside their cultural significance (as embodiment of the Aztec god Xolotl) and use in traditional medicines. Yet the species is on the edge of extinction in its last habitat – remnant channels of Lakes Xochimilco and Chalco on the edge of Mexico City; a habitat threatened by urbanisation, introduced predators, and pollution.

‘Professor Griffiths’ and my work on the Darwin Initiative-funded project delivered a wide range of educational materials and actions to raise awareness of the axolotl, notably a series of guide-training workshops for the boatmen who punt tourists around the canals of Xochimilco on large pleasure boats, and a Species/Habitat Action Plan workshop in 2004. The latter involved additional local and international partners, including: the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Parc Ecologico, Chapultepec, Mexico and Chester Zoos, and key Mexican government environmental agencies. This was followed in 2014 by our participation in a British Council-funded workshop, The Critically Endangered Mexican Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) conservation programme: ecological health in practice, which reviewed progress and identified subsequent actions.

‘Since then our Mexican collaborators have continued to research the biology and ecology of the axolotl, promote it as a flagship species, and fight its corner. So, although no longer a central participant in this process, we are proud to have played some small part in the socio-ecological regeneration of this amazing creature, and are delighted to see its significance being recognised by the prestige of being included on a banknote. Perhaps our own socio-ecological system will have similar powers of regeneration!’