This is an axolotl—a salamander originating from Mexico’s Lake Xochimilco. Closely related to the tiger salamander, the axolotl is neotenic; that is, even as a mature animal it retains characteristics of youth. In the case of the axolotl, neotony means it doesn’t undergo metamorphosis, so the adults remain aquatic and gilled.
How did I first hear about this winsome and nearly extinct species? Well, our pastor has two of them as pets. He’s named them Jack and Jerry, after his two deacons. (And yep, I’m married to one of those deacons.)