I bet you’ll agree with me when I say:
There are some amazing varieties of axolotl in existence!
Identification of axolotl types can be tricky, but I’ve attempted to simplify things in this post as best as I can.
So let’s dive in!
Top Axolotl Morphs and Color Types
The most common variety of axolotl is undoubtedly the wild type.
Wilds are most commonly a green-brown color, but there can be a lot of variation in the actual tone.
So, what makes an axolotl a “wild?”
Wilds have concentrated groups of little black spots (called melanophores) all over their body.
These are especially visible on their head when they are little.
The base of their body is primarily yellow (from the yellow xanthophores in their skin).
Wilds are possibly most appreciated for their iridophores, which are sparkly reflective areas that are visible on their bodies, gill stalks and eyes (aka shiny eye rings – a distinguishing trait of wilds as compared to, say, a melanoid).
Under the right light, parts or even the whole of the animal looks shimmery!
Wilds can look pretty different from animal to animal, depending on the pattern of their spotting and the exact hue of their skin.
When two axolotls with no matching hets mate, the babies will all be wilds!
Interesting Wild Varieties:
- GFP wild
- Mosaic wild
- Starburst wild
- High Iridophore wild
- High leopard wild
Leucistic axolotls are relatively common, but in some cases can be difficult to find and their appearances can be seasonal when they do.
So, what’s a leucistic?
A leucistic axolotl has a pink body and dark eyes.
They are most commonly known for their bright pink gills, though the actual tone of the gills can vary from almost white to cherry red to even black.
This is also known as a “white” axolotl, though it is not albino.
They are similar, but you can tell the difference by their eyes.
And sometimes the leucistic has dark spots or freckles (which albinos do not have).
They have a gene that prevents the color pigments from migrating from their heads and backs.
Interesting Leucistic Varieties:
- Bluegill Lucy
- Dirty Lucy
- GFP Lucy
- Axanthic Lucy
- Copper Lucy
- Melanoid Lucy
- Freckled Lucy
- Lucy with Iridophores
- Mosaic Lucy
3. Black Melanoid
The term “melanoid” is used to describe an axolotl with a few defining traits.
Specifically, the black melanoid is recognized as its own type, but melanism is a trait that can apply to other types.
A black melanoid has no iridophores (sparkles).
This is why their eyes are not shiny, but dark like black buttons.
They do have TONS of melanophores.
But they are sprinkled evenly and randomly over the axolotl, not in bunches.
They do have xanthophores…
… But the xanthophores become very hard to see with age, and don’t present themselves in a pattern or concentrated cluster.
Note: Spotted melanoids are almost always axanthic, not melanoids. As melanoids, these animals turn solid as they age without the axanthic gene.
Interesting Melanoid Varieties:
- Axanthic melanoid
- GFP melanoid
- Mosaic melanoid
4. Golden Albino
Golden albinos are gold because of all their xanthophores.
Their yellow appearance can be further increased if the animal is GFP as well.
Goldens are generally one of the most sparkly types of axolotls.
The presence of iridophores can make them glitter from head to toe.
They lack melanophores (dark spots).
What makes them albino is their clear pupils, which usually appear pinkish in adult animals.
Their eyes can be sparkly on the outside rings though.
Interesting Golden Varieties:
- GFP golden
- Light golden
- Mosaic golden
- Non-albino golden
- Melanoid golden
- High Iridophore golden
5. White Albino
Technically, white albinos are the same phenotype as a gold albino and not really their own variety (source).
But they look pretty different due to the lack of gold (xanthophores).
Albinos can have iridophores.
So they can enjoy the sparkles too 🙂
Interesting White Albino Varieties:
- Axanthic albino
- Melanoid albino
- GFP albino
- Mosaic albino
You will not find sparkly axanthics!
They usually have a spotted look, unless they are melanoid.
Axanthic axolotls don’t have xanthophores, which are the yellow pigment.
This gives them a cooler look.
Axanthicism in axolotls is a trait that can affect several morphs, yet is also considered its own morph, as you can see from the varieties listed above – some of them can be axanthic too.
Interesting Axanthic Varieties:
- Dark Axanthic
- Light Axanthic
- Mosaic Axanthic
- Melanoid Axanthic
Copper axolotls are actually a type of albino.
Their bodies have a rusty tint to them, hence the name of copper.
They have clear pupils, but like goldens can have sparkly eye rings.
This pupil trait can actually be a bit tricky to identify without proper lighting or in younger animals.
How do you tell if your axolotl is copper?
It helps to shine a flashlight at their eyes and if the pupil reflects red, that shows the animal is albino.
Interesting Copper Varieties:
- GFP Copper
- Axanthic Copper
- Melanoid Axanthic Copper
- Copper Melanoid
- Mosaic Copper
- Starburst Copper
8. Mosaic, Piebald/harlequin
These are extremely rare varieties of axolotls, and can command an extremely rare price tag as such.
To the naked eye, these usually appear rather like the pinto horse with a combined two-tone marbled pattern.
Differentiating mosaics from piebalds can be tricky without DNA analysis.
Mosaicism is reported not to be inheritable, though there are conflicting schools of thoughts on that.
Mosaics are reportedly not as healthy or hardy as other breeds of axolotls and may have a shortened lifespan due to harboring 2 conflicting sets of DNA.
Many times mosaics do not survive to be juveniles as they are just too deformed.
Infertility is also often a problem in adult mosaics.
The chimera axolotl, like the mosaic, is also extremely rare.
It is said to occur when two eggs fuse together in their early stages of development, which can be a natural phenomenon or a forced occurrence.
This creates an axolotl that is half one axolotl on one side and half another axolotl on the other side, split down the middle.
It’s quite unusual, and like mosaics they may be less hardy due to uneven growth of each side.
Also like mosaics, it is said to not be inheritable.
And yes, there are lab-created chimeras in existence.
The firefly axolotl is one such lab-created axolotl, which was created by swapping the tails of two axolotls they they were still in the egg.
The tails on the firefly axolotl over time will take on the same appearance of the body.
Some Types of Axolotl Traits
What is an Axanthic Axolotl?
An axanthic axolotl is a morph that lacks xanthophores. (Xanthophores are what produce a yellow pigment in the skin).
This gives them a cooler appearance.
They also do not have iridophores.
So no sparkles will give their eyes a black button look, as iridophores are what makes an axolotl’s eyes shiny.
How do you know if your axolotl is axanthic?
It can actually be a bit tricky to tell.
The easiest way is to examine the hatchlings when they are very small, because the trait is most easily identified when they are quite tiny.
As they age, other pigments can make it trickier to tell.
The axanthic hatchling will not have any yellow when compared to its siblings, especially on its facial region.
Another way to determine if the lotl has axanthicism is to use a blue light to check for face fluorescence.
There are certain regions of the skull that may appear to glow in the right light.
Axanthic animals that are not heterozygous for leucisic or homozygous for albino are weaker and more prone to infection (source).
(Sometimes called the “axanthic curse.”)
Axanthic albinos may get yellower with age, though that isn’t actually xanthophores making them yellow, but riboflavins in their diet.
What is a Melanoid Axolotl?
Melanoid axolotls have an extra amount of melanophores.
Melanophores are those little dark spots, which are black pigment cells, which cover the axolotl.
They also have less xanthophores (yellow pigment) and no iridophores (sparkles).
As they age, the dark melanophores gradually “takes over” the axolotl to the point where you can’t really see the xanthophores.
This gives them a soft, velvety look.
The lack of sparkles gives them dark eyes and also lends to the smooth appearance.
There are many kinds of Melanoid axolotls that can be found too, not just black (though black is probably the most common).
What is an Albino Axolotl?
Albino axolotls have clear eyes.
Their eyes usually appear red or pink.
Albinism is a trait that was given directly from the Tiger Salamander, introduced into the axolotl gene pool in the 60’s.
Albino animals are usually lighter.
What Does GFP Mean?
GFP stands for green fluorescent protein.
The GFP DNA was not naturally produced through selective breeding, but was introduced in a lab by scientists through injecting jellyfish DNA.
However, the GFP gene is inheritable.
So we continue to have this proliferated in the pet trade without the further assistance of scientists.
How to tell if your axolotl is GFP?
Just get a blue light and shine it over your axolotl in a dark room (not for too long though – you don’t want to hurt their eyes).
If they are GFP, they will glow in the dark a greenish hue.
GFP is not always evenly distributed over the axolotl’s body. Sometimes it is only on the lower half, for example.
It is also a common misunderstanding that a GFP axolotl will have green glowing eyes.
This is not always the case.
Sometimes the glowing of the eyes is only seen under the blue light and their eyes look normal in regular light.
There are so many amazing types of axolotl colors – some more common and some rarer.
It can be hard to pick which one you like best!
So, do you have a preference?
Learn something new?
Though it was quite long, I hope you liked this post!