The main difference between both species is that the latter resides on land, while axolotls are aquatic creatures.
Another interesting fact about these animals is that they are neotenic, meaning they do not metamorphose naturally and maintain their juvenile features even in adulthood.
While other amphibians lose their gills in exchange for lungs and live as land animals, axolotls retain their gills and continue living in water even as adults.
They also develop lungs which they occasionally use to breathe from the water’s surface.
However, their fluffy, feathery gills, their most recognizable feature, remain their primary breathing method. Axolotls got their names from Xolotl, the Aztec god of fire and lightning.
According to legend, this god transformed himself into an axolotl to hide from people who wanted to sacrifice him.
Since these creatures have made the water body their habitat, they usually have webbed feet and a tail for swimming.
Axolotls have an average length of 9 inches and a maximum length of 18 inches and can vary in color from brownish green to pinkish.
They also weigh about 8 ounces. They have a slightly curved mouth that looks like they are smiling, lidless eyes, and large flattened skulls.
These amphibians are carnivores, and their diet comprises mollusks, small fish, worms, and insects and their eggs, crustaceans, and their primary predators are tilapia and perch, including birds.
Background on Axolotls
Axolotls are natives of Mexico City, and the wild species can be found in Lake Xochimilco in the city.
Most axolotls are found in captivity, especially in homes as pets or aquariums in several parts of the world.
People keep these animals as pets because they are cute and easy to breed.
Other axolotls can be found in laboratories for scientific research.
Most of the studies on this species are centered around their ability to regrow missing organs and body parts, including tail, skin, muscle, and bones.
The main purpose of this research is to find a way to develop regenerative medicine in humans.
In contrast to species in the same family with one color gene for all variants, axolotls possess four color genes.
As a result, their skin colors vary when a mutation occurs.
Wild axolotls feature an olive-tan with gold patches, which is the species’ natural color.
Other mutated variants are golden albino, melanoid, leucistic skin, xanthic, etc.
Pet breeders are known to crossbreed certain variants to get new and more fascinating color combinations.
Plus, axolotls are notorious for modifying their skin color for camouflaging purposes.
They accomplish this by modifying the amount and size of melanophores.
A melanophore is a cell that contains the pigment melanin, responsible for controlling the color of the coat and the intensity of the patches on the skin.
Unfortunately, the IUCN has tagged axolotls as critically endangered species due to pollution, invasive species, and habitat loss. Less than 1000 axolotls remain in the wild.
Below are some of the axolotl variants in the world today based on their color mutation.
9. Wild-type Axolotls
Wild-type axolotls feature a dark gray color with olive and black mottling.
Their iridophores have gold speckles, and their belly is pale.
This is the color you will find on all axolotls living in the wild, although the range usually depends on individual axolotls.
Some can be gray, nearly black, or a lighter yellow-green.
They also have dark eyes with golden irises and purple gill filaments.
This color combination makes it easy for them to thrive in the muddy lakebeds of their natural habitat in Mexico City.
Leucistic axolotls have a translucent white color with pink or red gills, shiny gold flecks, and black or dark brown eyes.
They hardly exist in the wild because they are an easy target for predators, thanks to their bright colors.
You will find most leucistic axolotls in captivity, as many pet owners find them fanciful.
They closely resemble albino axolotls but don’t have red eyes like them.
Leucistic axolotls are a result of a mutation that happens when the skin does not produce enough melanocytes.
These melanocytes produce a dark pigment called melanin, so leucistic axolotls have a different color and do not feature the same patterns as wild-type axolotls.
7. White Albino Axolotls
The white albino is one of the most common axolotl color morphs around.
They have white bodies, white or pink eyes, and red gill filaments.
This is another species without enough melanophores in the body.
Plus, the white albino is particularly sensitive to light.
While this species can barely survive in the wild, they have been successfully bred in captivity.
As they grow older, the red color on their gills becomes deeper, while the rest of their body retains a completely white complexion.
If a recessive albino gene is inherited from both parents, the offspring will also be albino; just one copy will not affect skin color.
6. Melanoid Axolotls
Melanoid axolotls have fewer iridophores and more melanophores, so they are the complete opposite of albinos.
The first of this kind was found in a laboratory in 1961 and has become fairly common.
These axolotls can be completely black or have a dark green color with dark purple gills.
Most of them also possess a purple or paler gray belly, and what sets them apart from their wild-type counterparts is the lack of the shiny golden iris present in the latter.
The color tones of black melanoids can vary according to the substrate on which they are grown.
This change is only temporary and is usually dependent on the following factors:
- A dark substrate will lead to a dark black axolotl
- A light substrate will lighten up an axolotl
In the same vein, there are heavily marked melanoids, and they also have the same purplish-gray and black spots characteristic of regular melanoid, but they also have yellow and light green patches.
However, this variant is very rare and hard to find.
5. Golden Axolotls
Golden axolotls have varying colors, from orange-gold and yellow to peach and almost pure white.
They also have speckles and reflective spots on their body, with yellow, pink, or white eyes. In addition, their gills are peachy with a light yellow tint.
Young golden axolotls are hard to differentiate from white albinos; they also share a sensitivity to white lights like this species.
The golden hue only starts to show when they get older.
Similar to other bright-colored axolotl variants, the golden one lacks melanophores.
4. Copper Axolotls
Copper axolotls are light gray with gray irises and copper-colored freckles.
They also have a paler belly and greyish-red gills.
Some axolotls in this category are almost pink; others can have a more caramel complexion.
Their sandy colors and cute, speckled faces have made them quite popular among pet breeders.
This species originated in Australia and the United States, and it’s hard to find them elsewhere.
This copper mutation is another form of albinism, although a less extreme one.
So, while copper axolotls have reduced levels of pteridines and melanin, they don’t completely lack these pigments.
When bred with other color morphs, they can birth different variants like axanthic copper or melanoid.
3. Piebald Axolotls
Piebalds are white with black eyes, red gills, and gray, black, or dark green symmetrical patches on their backs and faces.
These patches may also appear on their legs and sides, although that’s not always the case.
Overall, piebalds are a category of leucistic axolotls, only that there’s a concentration of melanophores on their backs and heads.
This is caused by the movement of some cells while the axolotl egg is still in the early stage of development.
These cells are called neural crest cells.
This species is rare but heritable; most are found in New Zealand.
The patches on piebalds darken as they age and can result in a white and black salamander.
2. GFP Axolotls
GFP stands for Green Fluorescent Protein, and axolotls in this category are not natural species but a product of animal research.
When you place this amphibian under UV lighting, it produces a bright neon green effect.
GFP axolotls are created when injected with the GFP protein, and in effect, this protein causes them to glow.
So, the bottom line is that any axolotl can be a GFP axolotl as long as it has the protein in its system.
However, it works better on albino axolotls because the lack of color on their skins makes the GFP in them work better and glow brighter.
1. Lavender Axolotl
This species of axolotl is characterized by a purple and light silvery color, including gray-red gills and black eyes that can become green or gray as they age.
They also have spots all over their body which has earned them the name “silver Dalmatian axolotl.”
Unlike some color morphs, this variant is difficult to find and costs more than a normal color morph.