Axolotl Care Essentials | Complete Guide

Axolotl Care Essentials | Complete Guide

Apr 13th 2024

Axolotl Care (Ambystoma mexicanum)

Very unique pets, axolotls are large salamanders that live entirely under the water, never surfacing onto land. Pronounced ACK-suh-LAH-tul, they never undergo a complete metamorphosis from the larval stage (with gills) to adult stage, as other salamanders do. Instead, they stay in their larval stage, breathing and living underwater their whole lives. Axolotls originate from Lake Xochimilco in Mexico, and their wild populations are critically endangered due to climate change, pollution and draining of the lake. 

Also referred to as the Mexican walking fish, axolotls have a tadpole-like fin on their back that runs the length of their body. They also have feathery gills that extend outwards from their heads. Axolotls are usually brown, grey or black, but there are domesticated varieties of white and albino as well. With low-maintenance care requirements, Axolotls they are hardy, tame and fun to have as interactive pets. They are very unusual looking and are sure to attract a lot of attention.

Axolotl Fun Facts

  • Axolotls have an unusual ability to regenerate lost limbs 
  • The axolotl does not develop projected eyes or eyelids as other salamanders do 
  • Atl means "water" and xolotl means "dog", so axolotls are figurative "water dogs" Axolotls have headdress-like gills that branch out from their heads 
  • Before they became an endangered species, Axolotls were a delicacy for Xochimilcan natives

Average Size and Life Expectancy of Axolotls

Extending from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail, an axolotl typically measures 10-inches long. Though not as common, some axolotls grow even bigger. Axolotls reach adulthood when they are about eight inches long. It usually takes them a year to reach eight inches, though some grow in as quickly as six months. On average, axolotls live to about 10 years old, although some do live considerably longer.

Housing Your Axolotls

A 10-gallon tank could work fine for an adult axolotl, but they do produce a significant amount of waste, so you may want to go with a 20-gallon tank that will stay cleaner for a longer time. It depends on how often you are able to clean the tank. Since your axolotl will never leave the water, you don't need to worry about having any land areas in the aquarium. 

Keep the water in the aquarium filled as high as possible, so the axolotl has plenty of clean water to move around in. Axolotls have been known to jump out of their aquariums, so you also need to have a hood or lid on top. A hood is recommended so you can add a fan to keep the water cool in warmer months of the year. 

You can also use a filter in your axolotl's tank to keep the water cleaner between washes. If you do choose to use a filter, keep in mind axolotls really dislike water flow, so make sure the water filter uses a spray bar instead. If the axolotl has a loss of appetite and forward-curled grills, it is a sign that there may be too much water flow in the aquarium. Also, provide fun accessories such as plants, caves and wood for your axolotls to rest in, interact with and hide inside. 

While young, the axolotls may nibble on the legs, tails and gills of their tankmates, so it is best to keep them separated. Adults that have plenty of room and food get along better with each other. However, they are not social creatures, so it is not necessary to house more than one together unless you want to.

Substrate in Aquarium for Axolotls

When picking out a substrate for your aquarium, you will want to choose pebbles that are larger than your axolotl's head. Axolotls will eat just about anything that is bite-sized, so rocks can be hazardous if swallowed. You also need to make sure the substrate is aquarium safe and has no chemicals. Some people choose not to use any substrate at all, though pebbles are nice because they help to keep the water clean and are more beautiful to look at than a bare floor.

Temperature Inside Aquarium for Axolotls

Axolotls come from a moderately chilly lake, so the optimal temperature range for them to flourish is the low- to mid-60s. They will tolerate higher temperatures up to the low-70s, but anything above 74-degrees Fahrenheit should be avoided at all costs. If the axolotl gets too hot, it will become overly stressed and could even die. 

You will want to purchase a thermometer to put inside the aquarium, so you can monitor the temperature of the water regularly. If you live in a very warm climate, you will need to buy a device to chill the water or put a fan on top of the tank.

Axolotl Lighting

Axolotls do not require lighting, though you may want to install some sort of light, so you can properly see inside the aquarium. We recommend that you pick a light that will be beneficial for the plants to grow as well. You can find plant-friendly lights in places that sell freshwater aquarium fish supplies. When your axolotl is still getting familiar with its aquarium, it may shy away from the light. As long as you have provided it with sufficient hiding areas, your axolotl will slowly venture out to see what's going on. They are very curious creatures! Always make sure the light is not generating too much heat as that could be very harmful to the axolotl.

Axolotl Water

If you have ever owned an aquarium with pet fish, you will find the process with setting up the axolotl tank to be very similar. In fact, axolotls are even a bit less maintenance than aquarium fish in the case of water quality. Even still, make sure you have a good filter and change the water frequently. As long as you treat the water with a special conditioner made to remove chlorine from aquariums, you can use tap water to fill up the tank. 

When you first purchase an aquarium and filter, it is best to let the water cycle for a few weeks to allow the filter bacteria to grow and the water conditions improve. After that, you can introduce your axolotl to its new home.

Axolotl Food

An excellent food staple for axolotls is a live reptile food such as nightcrawlers. You can also give bloodworm cubes, cooked frozen shrimp, and lean chicken and beef. It is okay to feed your axolotl a pinkie mouse, but only as a rare treat since it is high in fat. 
Unfortunately, axolotls can easily get fish diseases and parasites, so you want to avoid feeder fish. Axolotls do not need any sort of vitamin or mineral supplement and a staple of nightcrawlers should provide all the nutrients they need.

Axolotl Handling

Axolotls do not like to be handled, and it's not safe for them to touch them a lot because they have a protective slime coating that can get damaged. Also, axolotls do not have bones and are made up of delicate cartilage and porous skin, so it's essential to be very gentle when moving them to clean the aquarium. If you prefer to use a net, make sure it is a very thin mesh, so the axolotl's fingers do not get stuck.

Axolotl Morphs

There is a wide variety of different colors that you can find the axolotl in, let's break them down.


Basic Morphs

Wild Type - Combination of black, brown and/or green body with gold flecks and dark eyes

Leucistic - White or pink body with vivid red gills and dark eyes

White Albino - White or pink body with less saturated red gills and clear or red eye

Golden Albino - Yellow body with orange or peach gills and clear eyes

Melanoid - Solid black or grey color with no gold flecks and dark eyes

Uncommon Morphs

GFP (Green Fluorescent Protein) - GFP is a genetically modified gene that was introduced in a lab. These axolotls glow bright green under UVB or blue lights.

Copper - A variety of albino, coppers have a light brown and pink body with dark brown spots and red eyes

Rare Morphs

Chimera - Split down the middle appearance, caused by two cells fusing together during development

Mosaic - Like chimera, a mosaic is created by two cells fusing together during development, however, the color variation is mixed Piebald: Pigment doesn't cover the whole body, usually just the head, back and sides

Silver Dalmatian / Lavender - Purple hue with dark spots along the body like a Dalmatian dog

Enigma - Dark with green flecks, one of a kind breed


Axolotls are very unusual pets to own and great for observing and showing off to guests. They are straightforward to care for, and with love and proper nutrition will grow relatively large and live a long life. They are charming, and you may even notice their mouth making a smile shape. You can also find them in a variety of different colors and patterns. We hope you enjoyed reading about axolotls!