Axolotl Vs Salamander: The Main Differences and Similarities! (2024)


If you’re considering getting an amphibian companion, you must understand its various terminologies. There appears to be a fair amount of confusion between axolotl vs salamander.

The axolotl and salamander are both captivating amphibians known for their unique characteristics.

The axolotl, native to Mexico, stands out for its neotenic trait, retaining its aquatic larval form throughout its life, with external gills and a wide range of colors.

Axolotls are renowned for their impressive regenerative abilities, capable of regrowing lost body parts.

Salamanders, on the other hand, encompass a diverse group of amphibians found worldwide.

Let’s delve into the definitions of these two words and clarify their appropriate usage. Read on to learn more.

Before you scroll further down this guide, check out these other animal-related articles: Belgian Malinois vs Dutch Shepherd and Neapolitan Mastiff vs Cane Corso.

Axolotl vs Salamander


The term ‘axolotl’ is often used interchangeably with ‘salamander,’ but this is not always accurate.

Simply put, axolotls are a specific type of salamander, but not all salamanders are.

Many individuals mistakenly believe that “axolotl” refers to the juvenile phase of any salamander rather than being the name of a distinct species.

This confusion arises because young tiger salamanders (before metamorphosis) bear a resemblance to axolotls, particularly juvenile axolotls.

However, they are not the same creature.

Strictly speaking, the term “axolotl” only applies to organisms of the Ambystoma mexicanum species, which evolved in Mexican lakes.

While similar, Tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) are a separate and distinct species. It is crucial to keep the two different.

It is worth noting that some experts prefer to refer to juvenile salamanders as axolotls, as it is easier and quicker than saying “juvenile tiger salamander.”

Although those who do so are typically aware that they are referring to different species, the widespread use of the term leads to ambiguity among pet owners.

While this distinction may seem trivial, correctly identifying the species is essential, especially when caring for them as pets.

Axolotls and salamanders have different care requirements and can react differently to their environment.

This differentiation becomes relevant as your amphibian pet goes through maturation.

When tiger salamanders transition into regular salamanders, it is a normal part of their development.

However, if axolotls undergo similar changes, it is often a result of adverse environmental conditions.

Therefore, knowing the species you are dealing with is crucial for proper care.

Furthermore, some symptoms of transitional development can resemble signs of serious illness, so it is essential to distinguish between the two to diagnose your pet accurately and provide appropriate care.

Metamorphosis, for instance, involves smaller gills, changes in appetite, increased lethargy, and spending more time at the water’s surface.

While these signs can occur in axolotls or young tiger salamanders as symptoms of illness, they are a natural part of development for tiger salamanders.

Being aware of these developmental patterns allows you to identify issues more quickly.

Remember that tiger salamanders undergo metamorphosis routinely, whereas axolotls only exhibit these symptoms when essential for survival.

If your axolotl begins to transform due to an issue, you can reverse the process by promptly resolving the underlying problem.

That is beneficial since neotenic axolotls (those retaining their juvenile features) tend to have better survival rates and exhibit higher energy levels.

However, modifying a tiger salamander’s environment while undergoing metamorphosis can significantly worsen the situation, greatly impacting your amphibian pet’s well-being.

What is the Difference Between Them?


Distinguishing between an axolotl and a salamander is only sometimes straightforward; even experienced animal experts sometimes need clarification, mainly when they are young and share similar appearances.

However, it is crucial to make an effort to differentiate between them to provide appropriate care.

If you are trying to tell an axolotl apart from a salamander, here are some key factors to consider:


One method to differentiate between axolotls and salamanders is by closely examining their coloration.

In their natural habitat, axolotls are dark, often black, with sporadic patches of lighter shades.

Various color mutations can happen within the axolotl breed through extensive laboratory work.

In pet stores and professional livestock distributors, you can commonly find axolotls in colors such as cream, emerald, black, tan, or gray.

It’s worth noting that not all white axolotls are albino, as actual albino individuals are relatively rare.

In contrast, tiger salamanders typically display a mixture of yellowish-green with hints of black or dark brown.

Tiger salamanders are likelier than axolotls to have a relatively consistent color pattern.

Many tiger salamanders feature prominent yellow spots along their backs, while others exhibit distinct yellow tiger stripes.

In axolotl species, coloration appears randomly or irregularly, leading to a less uniform appearance than in tiger salamanders.



After undergoing metamorphosis, tiger salamanders are generally more active and aggressive than axolotls.

There have been accounts from experts and pet owners who have observed that axolotls, when they metamorphose, tend to become relatively passive and less active salamanders.

This observation is prevalent among biology students who could keep their exam specimens as pets.

However, this behavior change is not necessarily negative. Tiger salamanders are more likely to attempt to escape from their tank due to their energetic behavior.

It is essential to ensure that the tank’s ventilated top does not have large openings through which the amphibian can crawl.

By providing a secure enclosure for tiger salamanders, you can prevent potential escapes while ensuring their safety and well-being.


According to some amphibian pet owners, axolotls often flex their gills, while juvenile tiger salamanders do not typically exhibit this behavior.

Therefore, if you never notice your pet turning its gills, it could be a reasonable assumption that it is a salamander.

However, it’s important to note that this characteristic is not an exact science and can be challenging to discern, especially in amphibians in pet shops.

These individuals may be underweight or exhibit altered traits due to various factors.

If you do observe your pet flexing its gills, it does not guarantee that it is an axolotl, but there is a likelihood that it could be.

Gill flexing is an exciting survival strategy these amphibians employ to expel carbon dioxide from their surroundings and create room for more oxygen.

It’s a fascinating aspect of their biology and serves as a means of adaptation.



In general, well-cared-for salamanders tend to be smaller than axolotls.

However, it is essential to note that this is only sometimes the case, and determining size differences can be challenging, especially for amphibians in pet shops.

These individuals may already be smaller in size due to various factors.

Therefore, while there may be a general trend of salamanders being smaller than axolotls, it is not a definitive characteristic and should not be solely relied upon for distinguishing between the two.

To accurately identify the species, it is advisable to consider multiple factors, such as their physical features, behaviors, and other distinguishing traits.


Axolotls have broader and more delicate fingers and toes compared to juvenile salamanders.

This distinction is logical because axolotls’ elongated fingers likely aid their swimming abilities.

In contrast, if axolotls had to travel on land like tiger salamanders frequently, their long fingers might hinder their movement.

Some individuals also believe that salamanders have smoother hind toes compared to axolotls.

Both axolotls and juvenile salamanders have a tail crest extending along their backs, gradually thinning down.

According to legend, this crest extends to the rear of an axolotl’s skull, while in a young salamander, it only extends beyond the collar.

These differences in finger and toe structure and the tail crest are additional distinguishing features between axolotls and salamanders.

Observing these physical characteristics allows one to understand each species’ unique adaptations and functionalities.

FAQs About Axolotl vs. Salamander


Are axolotls and salamanders the same?

No, axolotls and salamanders are not the same, although there is some overlap between the two terms.

Axolotls are a specific type of salamander, but not all salamanders are axolotls.

Axolotls belong to the Ambystoma mexicanum species and are known for their unique neotenic trait, meaning they retain their juvenile features throughout their lives, including their external gills.

On the other hand, other salamanders typically undergo metamorphosis, transforming into adult forms with lungs instead of gills.

So, while axolotls are a type of salamander, they have distinct characteristics that set them apart from other salamander species.

Can an axolotl become a salamander?

Yes, an axolotl has the potential to undergo metamorphosis and become a salamander.

However, this transformation is not natural for axolotls in their typical environment.

Under specific conditions, such as changes in water quality, temperature, or hormonal triggers, some axolotls may undergo metamorphosis and transition into a terrestrial form resembling a salamander.

This process is relatively rare and not observed in the majority of axolotls.

Most axolotls kept as pets or in laboratory settings are maintained in conditions that prevent metamorphosis, allowing them to remain in their neotenic, aquatic form throughout their lives.

Are axolotls just baby salamanders?

No, axolotls are not just baby salamanders. While they share some similarities with the juvenile stage of certain salamander species, axolotls are distinct in several ways.

Axolotls are a unique type of salamander known for their neotenic trait, meaning they retain juvenile characteristics throughout their lives.

That includes having their external gills, aquatic lifestyle, and the inability to undergo metamorphosis into a terrestrial form like most salamanders.

In contrast, the juvenile stage of other salamander species is a temporary phase before they change and develop into adult forms.

So, axolotls represent a distinct and specialized branch of the salamander family rather than baby salamanders.

How to tell the difference between an axolotl and a salamander?

To differentiate between an axolotl and a salamander, you can consider several factors:

Physical Appearance

Axolotls typically have a neotenic appearance, retaining their larval features into adulthood.

They have external gills, a streamlined body, and feathery external gill stalks.

On the other hand, salamanders usually have a more developed adult form, with lungs instead of gills and a body structure adapted for terrestrial life.


Axolotls do not naturally change most salamanders. They remain in their aquatic, neotenic form throughout their lives.

Salamanders, conversely, undergo metamorphosis, transitioning from a larval stage with gills to an adult stage with lungs.


Axolotls are primarily aquatic creatures and require water for their entire lives.

They are native to Mexican lakes and have specific environmental needs.

Depending on the species, salamanders may spend part of their lives in water as larvae and then transition to a terrestrial lifestyle as adults.


Axolotls have unique behaviors suited for their aquatic habitat, such as swimming and using their external gills to breathe underwater.

Salamanders, especially in their adult form, exhibit more typical amphibian behaviors, such as moving on land and using lungs for respiration.

Species-Specific Traits

Each species, including different types of salamanders, may have specific characteristics and physical traits that can help differentiate them from axolotls.

These traits may include color patterns, size, markings, and other distinguishing features.

It’s important to note that correctly identifying an axolotl or a salamander can sometimes be challenging, especially when dealing with juveniles or individuals with atypical traits.

In such cases, seeking assistance from amphibian experts or referring to scientific resources can help accurately identify.

Are axolotls a type of salamander?

Yes, axolotls are a type of salamander. They belong to the Ambystoma mexicanum species, a specific salamander species.

Axolotls share many characteristics with other salamanders, such as the general body structure, the ability to regenerate body parts, and belonging to the amphibian class.

However, what sets axolotls apart is their unique neotenic trait, which means they retain their juvenile features throughout their entire lives, including their external gills.

This neotenic condition distinguishes axolotls from most other salamanders undergoing metamorphosis and transitioning to a terrestrial form as they mature.

Axolotl vs Salamander: The Main Differences and Similarities


Understanding the distinction between axolotls and salamanders is crucial for anyone interested in amphibian pets or studying these fascinating creatures.

While axolotls are a specific species of salamander (Ambystoma mexicanum), they possess distinct characteristics that set them apart from other salamander species.

Axolotls retain their larval features throughout their lives, including external gills, and do not undergo metamorphosis like most salamanders.

This neotenic trait makes them a unique and captivating branch of the salamander family.

It’s important to dispel the misconception that axolotls are merely baby salamanders.

They represent a specialized and remarkable adaptation within the salamander lineage.

By familiarizing ourselves with the physical appearances, behaviors, habitat requirements, and species-specific traits, we can accurately differentiate between axolotls and other salamanders.

Identifying these amphibians is essential for providing appropriate care and understanding their needs.

Whether considering an axolotl or a different salamander species as a pet or engaging in scientific research, recognizing the distinction between these fascinating creatures adds to our knowledge and appreciation of their unique adaptations and ecological roles.

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