Having pets is becoming more and more trendy in recent years. People are not only taking in the usual pets like cats/dogs/birds but also branching out and adopting other types of creatures. And so, getting amphibians has been more and more popular lately.

But there is a problem when it comes to amphibians, especially between salamanders and axolotls. They are from the same biological tree and often are called interchangeably. That is a problem because while all axolotls can be called salamanders, you can’t identify all salamanders as axolotls. There are differences in physical features, behaviors, and habitats.

So what term is correct? No need to panic, I’m here to explain all that. In the paragraphs below, I’ll explain all the similarities and distinctions, giving you a clear-cut axolotl vs salamander segment. Keep your eyes open…

Axolotl Vs Salamander: In a bird’s eye view

Axolotl Vs Salamander In a birds eye view
Image Credit: Rejdan, Shutterstock


  • Both are amphibian
  • They live underwater at some point in their lives
  • Some similar color palettes like brown or black
  • 4 limbs, one head, and a tail with a crest


  • Axolotls exhibit neoteny, meaning it can retain its features from larvae stages
  • Salamanders can also live on land
  • Axolotl have flat heads while salamanders have round heads
  • Salamanders are found all over the world except Antarctica while axolotl are dominant only in Mexico

There are more things to know about them. These are just the tip of the iceberg. You’d be doing a massive disservice to yourself if you just read here and go. Definitely check out what I’ve got to say down below to learn more about these two fascinating creatures.

How To Tell An Axolotl And Salamander Apart

How To Tell An Axolotl And Salamander Apart
Image Credit: ArnPas, Shutterstock

We already know people often call axolotl salamanders and vice versa. But what is the cause of this? I found one reason: there’s a specific salamander called tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum). Does that ambystoma ring a bell? It’s because the axolotl’s scientific name is Ambystoma mexicanum. Meaning, they both belong to the same scientific genus.

So, they have some similarities, I think you get that. But they also have differences too. And that’s what I will address in the following section…


Color is usually the easiest way you can find which one is an axolotl and which one is a salamander. In their most primal environment, axolotls are often dark-colored, with some spots or patches.

I know what you’re gonna say, you’ve seen some colorful axolotls, haven’t you? Well, that’s because most axolotl breeds are mutations developed in labs.

As for albinos, they’re quite rare.

But tiger salamanders are different. You’ll find them in various colors from black-brown to yellow or even green.

Also, salamanders have a much higher chance to have uniform color patterns all over their body, whereas the patterns on an axolotl’s skin are quite bizarre.


Axolotls are cute and sweet creatures. They’re awfully playful and that’s the reason people like it so much. It’s so cutesy that people can’t imagine them being aggressive. And that’s where you draw the line! Salamanders are aggressive natured, due to them being hunters.

Also, salamanders are more energetic after their metamorphosis. While axolotls tend to be more sleepy if they ever morph.


Axolotl owners that I talked to say that it is common that their pets are flaring their gills, which is something that young tiger salamanders rarely do. Therefore, you can probably tell if your pet is an axolotl or not by checking if it flares its gills often.

But, let me remind you that you shouldn’t take this as words written in stone. Because other amphibians also flare their gills to reduce carbon dioxide and make way for more oxygen.

So when they’re at the early stages of their life cycle, you can mistake some other species as an axolotl if you’re just focusing on the gills.


This is an easy one. Salamanders are usually bigger than axolotls once they’re grown up while being under care, but you can fail to identify them while they’re small.

But another way to notice any differences between them is to check for their fingers. Axolotls have broader and longer fingers that they use while they’re underwater.


Axolotls are freshwater natives. You’ll see them in lakes or canals, or sometimes in ponds with a lot of vegetation. They are a majority in Mexico, in places like Chalco or Xochimilco. Veracruz is another place you can find them but in reduced quantity.

Salamanders are truly amphibious in nature as they share their life in both underwater and terrestrial areas at some point in their lives. You’ll find them in swamps or forests on any continent. Their 600 species are available in all continents except Antarctica, where the living condition is too harsh for them.


Axolotl is capable of reproduction through both sexual and asexual means. They could lay eggs or regenerate from a lost organ.

But salamanders can only reproduce through sexual means with another mate.

Life cycle

Salamanders have a typical life of an amphibian, where they hatch from eggs, come out as larvae, have a juvenile stage, and finally reach adulthood. Their total life expectancy is 20 years.

Axolotl also have a similar life cycle; however, they have this unique condition called neoteny which lets them retain their features from their early life. Intriguing, isn’t it? I have a whole article dedicated to the axolotl life cycle if you want to know in detail.

Why is differentiating between Axolotl and Salamander important?

Why is differentiating between Axolotl and Salamander important
Image Credit: Beatrice Prezzemoli, Shutterstock

Naturally, having the same genus would mean they have similar features. In fact, an axolotl does resemble the tiger salamander’s juvenile phase.

But even then, it’s wrong to combine both species as one because that’s spreading misinformation. Okay, I get it, some of you might not need to care about such semantics, but hear me out, there’s more to it.

When you’re taking care of a pet, you must ensure you know most things about them if not all. Salamanders and axolotls need different sets of care, they have separate needs and distinctive lifestyles. This will be all the more important when they reach maturity.

Here’s an example: it’s completely natural for a juvenile salamander to turn into an adult salamander, but an axolotl can turn into a salamander under extreme circumstances. However, that is not the norm, but rather a stressful outcome. As a matter of fact, transitional developments often mimic illnesses.

So, when an axolotl is going through that change, the owner has to look for ways to reverse the situation so that the axolotl can retain its original features. We need to remember, axolotls are neotenic creatures who retain features from their early days and are at their best behavior while doing so.

On the other hand, when a salamander is going through that change, you just let it be, just ensuring its basic needs.

See the difference in treatment? This is exactly why we should call a spade a spade.


As you can see, axolotls and salamanders are both amazing animals with their own unique characteristics. Both have qualities that will make you fall in love with them.

I hope you learned something new today and enjoyed this post. If you did, please leave a comment below and share it with your friends.

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