Axolotls As Pets: Everything You Need To Know

Pet Axolotls are normally sold as juveniles or young adults (between 2.5 and 4 inches long). It is common to find them for sale at pet and aquarium stores, reptile shows, and online.

A healthy axolotl will have full, feathery gills, skin free of lesions or red spots, and will startle when gently touched.

Before you buy an axolotl, you need to make sure that it is legal to own or import into your state.

Size and weight

Axolotls can range in length from 6 to 18 inches but are typically between 7 and 9 inches long. Adult Axolotl weigh between 5 and 12 ounces.

It is normal for females to be a little heavier than males, but they are not usually longer. Males have a large vent and deep vertical grooves along the sides of their bodies that can also help distinguish them apart.

Axolotls are fairly slow-growing and gain the most body mass during their first two years. However, they continue to grow throughout their lives at a much slower rate of growth.

Appearance, Colors, and Morphs

Axolotls are neotenic salamanders. This means that adults have features found only in babies of other species. A good example of this is their gills. Most amphibians lose their gills as they age from larva to adult (metamorphize).

However, fully grown adult axolotls maintain three pairs of gill stalks behind their heads that support the filaments used for breathing.

Along with their gills, the most recognizable traits of axolotls are:

  • Cylindrical bodies
  • Small eyes
  • Large tails, usually as long as the head and body combined

Wild axolotls are a speckled combination of brown, green, and gold. They have dark purple gill filaments, black pupils, and golden irises.

Types Of Axolotls

There is now a wide variety of axolotl color morphs in addition to wild species.

Due to captive breeding, there are a total of five known types of axolotls which are ranked below in order of popularity:

1. Leucistic Axolotl

Leucistic Axolotl has a pure white body with dark eyes and red gills. Some individuals may develop spots in adulthood.

Leucism is caused by a mutation that results in fewer melanocytes being produced in the skin. Because melanocytes produce melanin, a dark pigment, axolotls with this mutation do not have the same patterns as the wild-type morph.

2. Albino Axolotl

Albino axolotls are pure white in color. However, unlike the leucistic morph, they have light pink or white eyes and pink gills.

Young white albinos can even be almost transparent, especially on the belly. As they grow, the iridophores on their gills turn a deeper red, and the rest of the body remains pure white.

This species lacks xanthophores and melanophores. They do have iridophores, but these cells are confined to the gills only.

3. Melanoid Axolotl

Melanoid is much darker than wild types of axolotls. They have dark red or black gills and do not have golden irises or spots on their skin.

Very little is known about this morph and it has only been seen a few times. These color morphs are rare because there is no way to predict whether two melanoid parents will produce highly marked offspring.

4. Green Fluorescent Protein Axolotl

Green fluorescent protein Appears normal under regular lighting but glows bright green under black lights.

This gene is originally found in jellyfish and was artificially introduced into the axolotl genome. This morph was created by researchers at the Max Planck Institute in 2005 to study cell movement and cancer.

5. Golden Albino Axolotl

Golden albino has a golden yellow body with pink gills and yellow eyes. They also have bright yellow spots on their skin that make them look metallic.

As juveniles, they are indistinguishable from white albinos and also share how sensitive they are to bright lights. Only as they age do they begin to take on their beautiful golden hue.

Like most of the light-colored axolotls on this list, the golden albino morph has no melanophores.

6. Wild-type Axolotls

Wild type axolotl is dark grayish-green in color with black and olive spots. they also have gold flecks from the iridophores and a pale belly. They have the same colors and patterns as species found in the wild.

This is the default color and is the oldest in the pet trade. The first wild-type species were brought to Europe in 1863.

Depending on the individual, wild axolotls can be almost black, gray, or a lighter greenish-yellow. This morph has purple gill filaments and dark eyes with golden irises. Their coloration allows them to blend in with the muddy lake beds near Mexico City.

Axolotl Behavior

Axolotls are slow-moving, docile amphibians that are mostly active at night.

You will find that your axolotl spends most of its time at the bottom of the tank. They will also move around during feeding time and may even carefully stalk their prey. However, in general, axolotls are not very active and prefer to live a sedentary lifestyle.

If you have sand or plants in your axolotl tank, you can find them by digging and rearranging the decor. This is enriching and entertaining behavior to watch.

Comfortable and relaxed axolotls will stay out in the open, while shy or stressed individuals will stay hidden. Over time, some axolotls can even be trained to associate their owner with food and will swim towards the front of the tank when you get close.

Young axolotls often bite each other and adults may even eat small juveniles if they are housed together.

Keeping individuals of similar size and providing plenty of space and hiding places is key to decreasing aggression and the stress of crowding. Each salamander needs a minimum of 10 gallons of space each.

Strange But Normal Behaviors Of The Axolotl

1. It looks like they are smiling after eating


The adorable axolotl smile you see in the pictures is actually what it looks like after swallowing its food. When they go to eat something, they open their mouths wide and then a lot of water and food rush out.

If they are eating something large like a worm, they may swallow several times. It is common for their mouth to open in what looks like a smile for a few seconds after swallowing food.

Some axolotls have their mouths turned up slightly, making it look like they are smiling all the time. This is normal too!

The only time an axolotl smile would not be normal is if its mouth was open for an extended period of time.

2. Zoom around the tank

Sometimes if you turn on a light in the room, your axolotl could quickly approach its tank. This can also happen if there is a big change in the water or if it scares them in some other way. This is quite normal and nothing to worry about it.

Young axolotls are much more energetic than adults and swim around the tank much more often. It is normal to see your young axolotl spending time swimming, and it may even swim quickly to greet you.

When to worry?

If your axolotl seems agitated for more than a few seconds (which would be the case if they were just scared), they are often swimming to the top of the tank for air, or his skin turning red, you should check the water parameters immediately.

3. Lift legs or float

Axolotls may exhibit these behaviors for a variety of reasons. If they only lift their hind legs, it may be because they need to defecate.

If they only lift their front legs or balance on something, they are just playing. Sometimes axolotls just swallow a little air to float. You can test to make sure they are not stuck by gently pushing or blowing on them to make them swim down.

Axolotls also raise their hind legs for mating behaviors. this probably wouldn’t happen if you have two females in your tank, but it can happen with a male and a female, and even with two males.

Male axolotls will slightly raise its hind legs to leave a cone of sperm. this is pretty
common behavior even when there are only males in the tank.

4. Watching their food fall in front of their face (and then not be able to find it)

This behavior is hilarious. It happens when they drop a piece of food and don’t realize where it’s gone, even though it’s right in front of them. This happens to many axolotls, and many times they will find the food.

One way to avoid this is to dangle the worm in front of them until they grab it. If you are feeding pellets, you can scoop up the pellets with a turkey baster and try again. After a few tries, your axolotl should catch it.

If they don’t find the food, make sure to pick it up before it spoils. Rotten food can remove nitrates and ammonia from your aquarium.

5. Sit on top of each other

Sometimes if you have two axolotls in the same tank they seem to hang out together. This is a bit confusing because axolotls are not a companion animal, but I frequently find mine hanging out side by side.

As long as your axolotls are about the same size, well fed, the same sex, and have plenty of space in their tank, there should be no need to worry about them being too close together.

The only time you want to make sure your axolotls aren’t too close is if you’re feeding them, and that’s only because you don’t want there to be any accidents.