They may only be a few centimetres long as yet, but the 40 surviving offspring of Axel and Lady Gaga represent a delightful surprise and a logistical challenge to the science department of Lewisham’s Prendergast Ladywell School. The search is now on for good homes for the brood of axolotls: a species of extraordinary amphibian stuck in the midst of metamorphosis into land-based salamanders and resembling, when fully-grown, large, legged, near-transparent tadpoles with exquisite coral-like gills. For now they remain the darlings of the school and a wonderful asset in science lessons.
“Alex and his girl-friend Lady Gaga were, as usual, staying with me over a recent half-term holiday, and one second their tank was clear and the next it was full of eggs,” says Prendergast Ladywell School senior science technician Nev Kazim. “Happily, a large number of the eggs were fertilised and we now have quite a substantial population.”
“These wonderfully odd creatures - native to lakes near Mexico City - are special because they reach maturity without undergoing metamorphosis, though the addition of iodine can prompt them to change into land-based salamanders,” explains science teacher Jessica Edwards. “They also display exceptional regenerative qualities being able to re-grow lost limbs and gills – which is fortunate because both are very fragile and easily damaged and it also makes them of particular interest to medical research. In school, they feature widely in science lessons – particularly when it comes to the teaching of evolution and metamorphosis.”
“They like remaining underwater and are not suitable for handling, but they react strongly to human-beings: rising to the surface in the hope of being fed, and their gills go a beautiful shade of pink as they feed on their beloved bloodworms,” adds Nev Kazim.
A regular crew of students give up time at breaks and after school to keep an eye on the creatures and feed them. “I think they are beautiful,” said Olivia Butter (12) from Bellingham. “I come in most days to see them and I enjoy feeding them blood-worms.” Her enthusiasm is shared by classmate Assa-Noura Kamara (12) from Catford. “I would love to have one – they seem quite easy to look after, but they get very interested in you when they spot you and think you are going to feed them. Before I came to the school, I did not know such a thing existed.”
“They are really quite a freak of nature,” adds Jessica Edwards. “I think they are a terrific reminder to students that science focuses on remarkably odd things at times. Our axolotls push us beyond the usual parameters of school science - they bring a bit of the exotic to South East London. “
It is hoped that any publicity the creatures receive, will also prove an opportunity to advertise the need for good homes for Alex and Lady Gaga’s offspring. “Anyone who is interested in homing one of our babies will have to come and collect them with a small plastic watertight container and I will advise on their care and ask new owners to send me regular progress reports – they need a tank with not-too vigorous water filters,” says Nev. “We have had a great deal of interest from members of Prendergast’s staff and also local schools so I expect we will have no problem housing most of the babies. I visited some pet shops over the Easter break also and they have agreed to take any we cannot find homes for!”
Interested? Contact Nev Kazim - Prendergast Ladywell School senior science technician:
0208 613 7444 or 020 8690 1114 (Ext: 237444)