Page last updated at 14:31 GMT, Thursday, 27 December 2007

Rare 'Peter Pan' axolotl grows up

Dilly without gills: Picture William Glover
Dilly will be growing a set of lungs to become an air breather

A rare "Peter Pan" amphibian native to Mexico has performed a Christmas "miracle" - by becoming a salamander.

William Glover, from South Molton in Devon, acquired two axolotls which are only found in former lake areas near Mexico City.

The creatures spend their lives as neotenous tadpoles which can breed, but very rarely undergo metamorphosis.

But Dilly, one of Mr Glover's axolotls, has lost its external gills and will soon be an air-breathing land lubber.

I never thought it would happen to one of mine - I'm astonished
William Glover

"I thought they'd had a fight and the bigger one had eaten Dilly's frilly gills," Mr Glover told BBC News.

"I separated them and put Dilly in a different tank but the stumps just kept getting shorter and shorter and have now disappeared.

"I've heard about them changing into adults but I never thought it would happen to one of mine - I'm astonished."

Dilly, who is about a year old, was named by Mr Glover's daughter Katherine because its pink frilly gills reminded her of her favourite dinosaur in a children's book.

Neonate axolotl with frilly gills: Picture William Glover
Before the metamorphsis Dilly had bright pink frilly gills

Axolotls are found in the areas of the former lakes Xochimilco and Chalco.

Lake Chalco was drained in the 1970s to prevent local flooding and Lake Xochimilco is now a series of canals.

Axolotls have a life expectancy of about 10 years, but Dilly's metamorphosis will have more than halved its days on earth.

"It's a very stressful experience for the creature," Steve Eddy, from Exmoor Zoo, said.

"Its gills shrink and skin grows over the gill space, it then has to grow lungs to breathe with and it also grows eyelids and its tail changes.

"Just imagine how stressful that would be."

Mr Eddy said the metamorphosis was a very rare occurrence and the first he had heard of in Devon in his 40-year experience.

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