In Mexico, the ajolote’s fate lies in troubled waters

Los Angeles Times, 10/1/2012

Somewhere underneath the hull of Armando Tovar’s boat, the aquatic manifestation of the great god Xolotl was slithering along the muddy canal bottom, digesting bugs, laying eggs and trying to avoid extinction.

In 1998, Xochimilco was home to tens of thousands of ajolotes. Today, Tovar said, the number might be as low as 100.

As a 9-inch salamander, of course, the ajolote (pronounced ah-ho-LO-tay) couldn’t know its own cultural significance in Mexico. It couldn’t know its role in the Aztec creation myth. Or its freak-show star status among biology nerds for its ability to regenerate lost limbs, heart cells and bits of brain. Or its allure, in the world of arts and letters, as both a cryptic literary symbol and a metaphor for the Mexican soul.

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