Axolotl vs Salamander [Know The Differences]

If you’re thinking about getting an amphibian pet, you’ll need to learn to get familiar with the different terminologies used to describe them. There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding the term ‘axolotl’ and the term ‘salamander’.

But don’t panic, I’m here to help! In this article, we’ll explore the meaning of the two words and how they should be used. Let’s jump right into it!

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Axolotl Vs Salamander

The word ‘axolotl’ is often used interchangeably with ‘salamander’. While this is sometimes technically correct, it’s not always the case. To put it simply, axolotls are a type of salamander, but not all salamanders are axolotls.

Many people hold the belief that “axolotl” refers to the juvenile phase of any salamander instead of the name of a specific species. This mistake is likely because immature tiger salamanders (pre-metamorphosis) resemble axolotls, particularly juvenile axolotls. These are not, however, the same creature.

When used correctly, the term axolotl applies only to organisms of the Ambystoma mexicanum species, which evolved in Mexican lakes. The tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) is a similar but distinct species in its own right, so it’s important not to get them confused.

We realize that some experts prefer to refer to juvenile salamanders as axolotls since it is easier and faster to say than “juvenile tiger salamander”. Although those who do this are usually aware that they are combining separate species, the overuse of the term causes widespread ambiguity among pet owners.

While this differentiation may seem pedantic, it’s important to identify a species correctly, especially if they’re your pet and you’re responsible for caring for them. This is because axolotls and salamanders require different types of care and can react differently in their environment.

This comes into play as your amphibian pet starts to mature. For example, when tiger salamanders grow into regular salamanders, this is a normal development phase.

However, if axolotls experience these same changes, it is often due to the result of adverse environmental changes. So, you’ll need to know what creature you’re dealing with if you plan on caring for them correctly.

Moreover, some symptoms of transitional development can mimic symptoms of serious illness, so you’ll need to know the difference to diagnose your pet correctly and get them the help and care they need.

Metamorphosis, for example, is characterized by smaller gills, changes in hunger, and higher levels of laziness and time spent at the water’s surface. These signs, however, can occur in axolotls or young tiger salamanders as symptoms of illness or disease.

If you know when to predict these developments, you will be able to identify issues more rapidly. Remember, tiger salamanders do it all the time, while axolotls only experience these symptoms when it’s absolutely vital for survival.

If you have an axolotl that starts to transform due to an issue, you may typically reverse the process by resolving the issue promptly. This is beneficial since neotenous axolotls survive better and are far more energetic.

However, suppose you begin to modify a tiger salamander’s surroundings while it’s attempting to adapt. In that case, you can substantially exacerbate the situation, which can hugely affect your amphibian pet.

Axolotl vs. Salamander: How To Tell Them Apart

It’s not always easy to differentiate between an axolotl and a salamander; even fully-fledged animal experts get them muddled up from time to time. This is especially true when the creatures are young, as they look similar in their early life.

Nevertheless, it’s essential to do your best to tell them apart so that you can care for them correctly. If you’re trying to differentiate between an axolotl and a salamander, here are some key things to look out for!

Salamander vs. Axolotl Color

One way you can tell axolotls and salamanders apart is by looking closely at their coloring. In their natural habitat, axolotls are usually dark in color, sometimes even black. This is complemented by some spots of light color.

Many color mutations within the breed have resulted from years of laboratory work with axolotls. Axolotls in the following hues are commonly seen in pet stores and professional livestock distributors: cream, emerald, black, tan, or gray.

White axolotls may not always be albino, as albinos are relatively rare. On the other hand, tiger salamanders are typically a mix of yellowish-green, with hints of black or dark brown.

Tiger salamanders are far more likely than axolotls to have a reasonably uniform color pattern. Many tiger salamanders have large yellow spots along their backs, but many have distinctive yellow tiger stripes.

The color appears to be dispersed more haphazardly in axolotl species.


Tiger salamanders are typically more violent and active after transformation than axolotls.

Some experts and pet owners who have had axolotls claim that they metamorphosed into rather boring and sleepy salamanders (mainly Biology students who were permitted to take their exam specimens home).

But this isn’t altogether a negative thing. Tiger salamanders are much more likely to flee a tank than converted axolotls since they are so energetic. Ensure your tank’s vented top does not contain large openings for an amphibian to crawl through.



Some amphibian pet owners claim that it’s very common for axolotls to flex their gills, whereas juvenile tiger salamanders don’t usually take part in this behavior. So, if you never notice your pet flexing its gills, it could be safe to assume that it is an axolotl.

However, this shouldn’t be viewed as an exact science. This characteristic is also difficult to distinguish in amphibians in pet shops, as they tend to be underweight and lose some of their classic species traits.

However, if you notice your pet flexing its gills, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is an axolotl, but it is somewhat likely.

The practice of gill flexing is a neat survival strategy that is used to eliminate carbon dioxide that surrounds them to make space for more oxygen. The more you know!


While it isn’t always the case, well-cared-for salamanders typically tend to be smaller than axolotls. This isn’t always the case, and again, this can be much harder to detect in pet shop amphibians as they tend to be on the small side anyway.


The fingers and toes of axolotls are broader and more delicate than those of juvenile salamanders.

This stands to reason for the axolotl since the lengthy fingers likely help with swimming, whereas they may get in the way if the axolotl had to travel on land frequently, as the tiger salamander does. Some also believe that salamanders have smoother hind toes than axolotls.

The crest of the tail extends all the way along the back of axolotls and juvenile salamanders, eventually thinning down. According to legend, this crest, which extends all the way to the rear of an axolotl’s skull, only extends beyond the collar of a young salamander.

My Final Thoughts

Now that you know the difference between an axolotl and a salamander, you’ll be able to provide them with personalized treatment and care. Remember, some symptoms of the metamorphosis of salamanders can be symptoms of illness in axolotls.

So always do your best to know which one you’re dealing with.


Hello and welcome to Pets From Afar. I'm Glen. My daughter Siri and I are mad about axolotls. I created this website to document our findings and experiences, as we learn more about these amazing amphibians. Follow along and enjoy the fun!

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