The Curious Tale of the Strange Ajolote and the Fake MXP$50 Bill

There’s been some buzz recently about the new 50-peso note that will feature Mexico’s beloved ajolote, or axolotl in English, following the original Nahuatl word for this adorable little aquatic salamander that exists naturally only in the waterways of Xochimilco.

Ambystoma mexicanum
Photo by th1098, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Although it’s not slated to come into circulation for a few more years, of all the new bills that Mexico’s central bank is rolling out, people seem most excited about the one with the ajolote. Is it because this creature is so distinctly Mexican? Or is it just because it looks like it’s always smiling? 

The Endangered Ajolote de Xochimilco 

The Aztecs both mythologized and dined on them. Julio Cortázar was mesmerized by them. Scientists study them in hopes of discovering the secret to regenerating entire limbs. 

And what’s not to love about Ambystoma mexicanums, with their feathery gills, their varying colors, and their strange habit of living their whole lives in water despite having feet instead of fins? 

These amazing amphibians are not only weird and interesting, but they’re also closely associated with the world-famous Floating Gardens of Xochimilco. The gardens are actually artificial islets created by the Aztecs known as chinampas, and they have been recognized by UNESCO as “one of the most productive and sustainable agricultural systems in the world.”

Unfortunately, both the chinampas and the ajolotes are in danger of extinction. But increasing awareness of these cultural treasures and the need to preserve them is one of the main goals of Mexico’s new series of banknotes.

Familia G: Mexico’s Next-Gen Peso Notes 

Banco de México periodically introduces new banknotes to incorporate the latest security technology and to make the money more durable and usable. So in August 2018, they announced that they were putting the next generation of bills (series G) into circulation, starting with the new 500-peso note, which features images of la Reforma y la Restauración de la República on one side and gray whales on the other.

Mexican Series G 500-peso banknote
Screenshot from 

In September 2019, the new 200-peso note came into circulation. It depicts Mexican Independence on one side, and on the flip side, deserts, shrublands, and the golden eagle. 

As explained in the announcement, the front of each banknote denomination in this series will highlight one of the historical processes that formed today’s Mexico, while the back sides will showcase Mexico’s six major ecosystems, each represented by a UNESCO World Heritage site along with plants and animals identified with each. 

The Curious Case of the Fake 50-Peso Bill 

It’s not news that the new 50-peso bill will feature the ajolote, maize, and Xochimilco, as Banco de México already announced. (The theme for the opposite side will be Ancient Mexico and the Foundation of Tenochtitlán.) 

It’s also not news that they’ve decided on the design. More precisely, it’s fake news! 

According to the fact-checking site AFP Factual, the 50-peso bill hoax all started with a Facebook article that showed an example of what the bill *might* look like – a small detail that was overlooked when the story got passed around on social media and then picked up by numerous news publications.  

How ironic that, as the central bank puts out new bills to prevent people from creating fakes, they get caught up in a “fake news” story!

The good news is that Mexico’s iconic ajolotes de Xochimilco will get some well-deserved attention when the real bills come out in 2022. And Mexicans will get to show off their wonderfully weird endemic amphibians to the world.

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