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5 Axolotl Colors

Axolotls are unique and beautiful creatures. What are the 5 most common axolotl colors? Let’s take a look together!

The majority of axolotls belong to one of these five color categories:

  1. Wild (Dark Green, Brown, Black)
  2. Leucistic (Pink)
  3. Albino (White, Cream)
  4. Golden (Yellow)
  5. Melanoid (Black)

Axolotls are found primarily in these colors- Wild, Leucistic (pink), White Albino, Golden, and Melanoid. Variations in color are caused by genetic differences in melanin production, a skin pigment. The color of an axolotls’ eyes and gills are also associated with the skin color variant.

Although they look like fish, axolotls are among the most beautiful amphibians a keeper can choose to care for. The one-of-a-kind beauty in each individual keep enthusiasts coming back for more. Axolotls’ unique appearance is just one way axolotls capture the affection of animal lovers everywhere-they have individual personalities that are just as colorful. There are seemingly endless combinations of genetic expressions that can result from breeding different pigmentation types. These categories, called morphs, use skin, gill, and eye color to classify the type of axolotl.

Each of the axolotl varieties have eye colors and patterns associated with it. There are four pigmentation genes that result in the different listed color variants when mutated. Within the axolotl breeding community there are keepers who specialize in trying to discover never before seen color variations.

 1. Wild Axolotls

In the Wild color expression, the skin is usually a mix of dark hues and speckles. This variety usually has black eyes and a few different patterns on the skin. Most of these patterns are a mix of brown shades, dark greens, and black. Spots of gold or yellow are also a possibility. This variety is also observed to often have gold rings around the eyes. The spots on the skin can be shiny and iridescent which helps camouflage the creatures in the wild. The gills can be gray or purple, sometimes a combination. Younger axolotls tend to be darker in color and change color to lighten as they age.

All 3 natural pigments are found in the Wild type axolotl- yellow, black, and iridescent. The other four color categories listed below are mutations deriving from this gene expression, making the Wild color variation the mother of all morphs.

 2. Leucistic/Pink Axolotls

Leucistic axolotls are not a singular color, but a morph that can have a few variations. Axolotls who are Leucistic can be pink or pale pink. Sometimes they can be almost white and gain more pink color when blood flow to the skin is increased. Agitation sometimes is indicated by this change in skin color from light pink to dark pink. Some of the Leucistic variety axolotls develop freckles, depending on their genetics and the environment they are kept in. The gills on Leucitic axolotls are usually red or dark pink in color. Their eyes can be either dark brown or black, sometimes navy blue. This is a recessive trait, meaning both parents must carry the gene to pass it down. This trait also effects all three kinds of natural pigment. The contrast of their bright skin to dark eyes and gills makes the Leucistic Axolotl a very popular choice among keepers.

3. White Albino Axolotls

Axolotls that are White Albino inherit a recessive trait that effects the dark pigment. They can also be cream colored, yellow-white, or somewhere in between. White axolotls completely lack melanin in their skin so they do not develop spots. The absence of pigmentation does mean the axolotl can appear pink instead of white when agitated- this is because blood pressure increases and the vessels in the skin are more visible. This variation of albino axolotls has bright red gills and sometimes pink gills. White Albino axolotls also have red eyes due to no melanin there either. The only pigment effected is the dark pigment, so the skin can appear iridescent or yellow tinged. As they reach breeding age, this kind of axolotl develops darker coloration on its fingertips. This change is affectionately referred to as “muddy fingers” or other nicknames by some keepers, and is a sign of the axolotl becoming a mature, healthy adult.

4. Golden Albino Axolotls

Golden Axolotls are a variation of recessive albino gene expression. The golden color is because this kind of axolotl does not have melanophores. The skin of these creatures is yellow or gold, sometimes appearing almost orange in color when they are juvenile. Sometimes the skin will have a muted pattern, but most commonly have a single uniform color. The Golden Axolotl has colorless eyes, sometimes a pale pink, but never black. Often this variation can be found with a golden or yellow ring around the eyes. These axolotls usually present with peachy gills but sometimes their gills are the same color as their skin. They also develop darkened toes and feet with maturity.

5. Melanoid Axolotls

Melanoid, meaning “resembling black” is just that- a variation of axolotl that has very dark pigmentation. These animals have a recessive trait that causes a lack of iridophores, the shiny pigment in skin. This lack of iridophores causes remaining xanthophores, the yellow color pigment, to convert into melanophores, the dark pigment of melanin. The excess of melanophores makes the Melanoid variety of axolotl’s skin very dark, often completely black. The deep complexion of this axolotl resembles the Wild type, but they do not possess any light speckles or freckles like the Wild type. That is not saying Melanoid axolotls do not possess patterns, just not iridescent golds or yellows, only dark colors. They can have lighter shaded bellies. The eyes of this variety are always all black, never another color. The gills are also always all black with no exceptions. Dark Melanoid Axolotls can be considered the visual opposite of White Albino type, who have a total and complete absence of melanin. Also contrary to light albino types, Dark Melanoid axolotls can develop light toes and feet as they mature. This genetic expression is also said to cause the axolotl to be matte, as they do not have the shiny ring around the eye or the iridescent speckles as some variations do.

How Axolotl Color is Determined

As in every family, parentage and genetics play the determining role in the appearance of an axolotl. Colors and features of modern captive axolotls have been altered by breeding and mutations, and many no longer look like the axolotls in the wild of Mexico’s Lake Xochimilco. There are three natural pigments and the amount of these pigments determines the color of the axolotl. Iridophores make shiny and white pigment. Melanophores make dark pigment. Xanthophores make the yellow pigment. There is also a lab introduced factor called GFP, or Green Fluorescent Protein, that determines whether or not the axolotl is UV light reactive.

The pigments are created by specialized cells and expressed in amounts depending on the genetic markers. The pigmentation of an axolotl is determined by six genetic traits: Albinism, Melanism, Leucism, Axanthism, GFP trait (green fluorescent protein), and Copper trait. Each of these traits determines how much of each pigment the axolotl will display. Sometimes the amount of a specific pigment is zero, as in the case of some axolotls that totally lack certain pigments. The pigments do not only play a part in the appearance of the axolotl, but also the overall health of the animal. The yellow/orange pigment plays a role in immune health, so axolotls that lack this pigment, Axanthic Axolotls, are not always the heartiest.

Depending on which set of genetics the parents pass down, axolotls from the same clutch can look very different. In rare cases, chimera axolotls are born. These are axolotls that have 2 different variations expressed in a single animal, caused by the fusing of 2 eggs.

Final Thoughts

Axolotls are unique and beautiful amphibians with truly incredible variation. There are 5 common color variations of axolotl, each of which has special characteristics. Wild type, Leucistic, White Albino, Golden, and Melanoid are the most common variations, or morphs. The kind of morph determines the skin color, eye color, gill color, and predisposition to certain other features.

 Wild type has all the natural pigments present, showing dark colors, iridescence, and yellows. The pattern on Wild type axolotls is that of those found in Mexico, and is especially helpful camouflage from potential predators. Leucistic axolotls are all pink with dark eyes and pink gills. The popularity of this variation is attributed to their striking contrast. White Albino axolotls are white and do not have the dark pigment, only the iridescent and yellow. They can develop cute “muddy fingers” coloration when they mature. Golden Albino axolotls are yellow and peachy with colorless eyes. Melanoid Axolotls do not have any iridescent pigment, and one of its natural processes trades much of the yellow for more dark pigment. 

The expression of specific colorations is dependent on the presence of pigments. The amount of each different pigment is determined by dominant or recessive genes passed down by the axolotls breeding line. The genetic traits associated with the production of pigments determines what color the axolotl’s skin, eyes, and gills will be.