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Both in- and out-of-universe, Axolotls are a reoccurring element in Gravity Falls.

In the first episode and the online game Mystery Shack Mystery, the Mystery Shack tank contains what seems to be an Axolotl. However, in all subsequent episodes, the tank is empty.

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In a reddit AMA, series creator Alex Hirsch said this:

SPOILER QUESTIONS will either be ignored or responded to with an image of an axlotl (Sic), the albino frilled Mexican salamander.

In the series finale, "AXOLOTL" is used as a keyword and

Bill Cypher's

last words are

[Reversed] A-X-O-L-O-T-L. MY TIME HAS COME TO BURN. I INVOKE THE ANCIENT POWER THAT I MAY RETURN."

Finally, in Gravity Falls: Journal 3, there are two references to axolotls.

One passage contains this line:

The creatures cheered me, shouting "Praise the Axolotl!" (I have no idea what that means)...

Additionally, the sketch for "The Oracle" has a tapestry in the background with three Axolotls on it.

Is there any deeper meaning to this, or Hirsch just messing with the fans?

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There are at least two (maybe three) reasons for the axolotl references, although they are all tied together. Axolotls are famous, because of their known ability to regenerate lost limbs, something that (while not so remarkable in flatworms or starfish) is not very common in vertebrates. They are also able to accept transplants of whole organs (such as eyes) from closely related individuals These has made them a subject of a great deal of exploratory medical research. Their regenerating ability almost certainly has something to do with the the extreme neoteny exhibited by the species; axolotls reach sexual maturity without every undergoing the usual amphibian metamorphosis, and as a result, they never develop lungs or live terrestrially. (The fact that they are fully aquatic also makes it easier to raise them in tanks for medical research.)

With this background in mind, there are several reasons evident for the axolotl references:

  • They are simply very strange (and cool) animals, capable of doing things (like replacing entire limbs) that seem almost magical. So they fit in nicely with the paranormal motifs of the show.

  • Axolotl references, especially when they appear in tanks, are also often allusions to the Dune series, where "axolotl tanks" are used to recreate/reanimate corpses. So the creators of Gravity Falls may have been paying homage to Herbert.

  • Finally, these creatures are natural symbols of rebirth, which makes their appearance as a code phrase, alongside "INVOKE THE ANCIENT POWER THAT I MAY RETURN," quite thematically appropriate.

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