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Ever Seen an Axolotl? Meet Mango, the Grimes School’s New Pet


It’s possible you’ve never seen a creature quite like Mango, the Grimes Elementary School’s newest family member.

The pale orange fellow is a type of aquatic salamander called an axolotl (AK suh LAH tul), and he’s been swimming in a tank in the school’s media center since the start of the school year. His unusual look is heightened by the way his gills grow outside his body, ringing his face.

“He is quite shy,” said fifth grader Tare’e Terry. “Sometimes he’ll come out and smile. Mango is sometimes very hyperactive and at times, he looks joyful.”

“He likes to chill a lot,” added fourth grader Shannelly Gutierrez.

Mango was brought to the school by library media specialist Kacie Ham, who wanted the students to be greeted by something special when they returned from a year of remote learning. She sought out an axolotl in part because the center owns several donated books on the strange amphibians. She also felt it was an appropriate pet because of its resemblance to a dragon (albeit a very small dragon) like the school’s mascot.

“I thought a water dragon would be a good pick for us,” she said.

Critically endangered in the wild, they are native to the swamps around Mexico City. They are available only for purchase when bred in captivity. Ham had to find a breeder in Brooklyn to purchase Mango, who was then unnamed and only a couple of inches long. It has since more than doubled in size to five or six inches long.

Ham knew he was a special addition to the school when she saw a special education student who was generally non-verbal reading to their new friend and even holding the open book up to the glass tank so Mango could see the pictures. Many students have taken to him. Second grader Yaritzi Gutierrez, Shannelly’s sister, brought in a colored drawing of Mango, which is now posted next to his tank.

The fact that axolotls are endangered is an opportunity for students to talk about the importance of caring for the Earth.

“A lot of things are endangered because people throw trash in the water,” said fifth grader Ja’Nyra Ramey, who was the one to suggest the name Mango. Axolotls come in several varieties; Mango is an albino – perhaps golden albino. Some grow with a pinkish hue, but when the Grimes School’s new pet took on an orange color instead, Ramey was inspired to name him after the tropical fruit.

“He also looks like a pineapple,” she said a few days ago.

But Mango was the name that stuck.