Can You Hold Axolotl? (2024 Safety and Handling Techniques)

Close up of an axolotl swimming
Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: June 7, 2024
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Axolotls, with their delightful smiles, inquisitive nature, and vibrant gill colors, make a fascinating addition to any home aquarium. Enthusiasts often find themselves asking, “Can axolotls be handled?” Their adorable looks and engaging behavior may give the impression that they might appreciate a bit of gentle interaction, right? If you’ve ever wondered about handling axolotls, read on for the answer and more!

Article Summary

  • Axolotls are amphibians closely related to the salamander family, featuring pink-white skin, broad gills, and various colorations.
  • Axolotls are not poisonous but are uncomfortable being handled outside of their tank.
  • When handling axolotls, exercise extreme care, wash your hands, and use a gentle two-handed approach, avoiding prolonged contact while being mindful of their sensitive skin, exposed gills, and head.

Some Axolotl Background

Originating in their natural habitat, the warm water caves lake Xochimilco outside of Mexico City, the axolotl is also known as Ambystoma mexicanum or the Mexican Walking Fish.

Despite the name Mexican walking fish, the axolotl is not a freshwater fish at all but rather an amphibian most closely related to the salamander family.

Axolotl Anatomy

In place of pectoral and dorsal fins, these amphibians have fully functional arms and legs that they use to move about on the bottom, along with a broad flat tail used for propulsion and steering.

A white amphibian with pink protrusions around its head
(1) A close up of an axolotl

While they may appear cartoonish and move slowly at first, axolotls can move quite fast when in search of prey or avoiding aggressive behavior.


Axolotls in the wild are critically endangered, leading to a slowing in the aquarium trade. Keeping axolotls in captivity for aquarists and stores is probably the main way that many people will be able to see these beautiful creatures.

Unlike most other salamanders, juvenile axolotls never undergo the full transformation required to live on land and remain in the water for their entire lives.

Axolotls are referred to as paedomorphic because they retain their characteristic external gills through their lives, from the larval stage through being juvenile axolotls and into adulthood. Unlike other salamanders, axolotls do not undergo metamorphosis.

The retention of these adolescent traits throughout the axolotl lifespan is thought to be a product of spending their life cycle including birth and mating in the aquatic environment.

The adult axolotl is notable for its pink-white skin coloration and broad, exposed gills that wave in the water and pump oxygen that it needs to survive a life underwater. They also come in darker colorations with gray-brown skin and black spots.

Dietary Needs

Wild axolotls happen to be voracious eaters in hunting mode that thrive on a varied, protein rich diet of small fish, invertebrates such as mini snails, and even other smaller axolotl!

They are avid hunters, and will capture their prey by chasing them down and catching them with the axolotl’s mouth.


Axolotls eat relatively infrequently compared to many other aquatic animals, and will require regular feeding every two to three days.

In the home environment, feed good protein sources such as blood worms, brine shrimp and specially formulated foods such as salmon pellets.

Water Parameters

Considered a cold water species, the right temperature for axolotls is 60-64 degrees Fahrenheit which can be room temp in some homes but may take proper placement or a heating element or cooling.

Black amphibian hiding in a rock structure underwater
Your axolotl needs some hiding spots to cool down in

With their thin, permeable skin, they are incredibly sensitive to extremes in water temperature shifts in the tank, so extra care should be taken to make sure that things stay consistent.


Using an aquarium test kit is a great way to keep track of how conditions stand in your tank. Couple this with regular water changes to keep your tank clean and you’ll see a happy, healthy axolotl for years to come!

Can You Hold An Axolotl?

Technically yes, you can hold an axolotl out of water. However, this comes with the caveat that it should only be done when absolutely necessary and even then for as short a period as possible.

Bear in mind that axolotls are delicate creatures meant to live in water. These aquatic animals are not adapted for long periods on the surface, and may face severe dehydration or damage to their internal organs if kept out of the tank for too long.

Axolotl Aggression

While normally quiet, solitary creatures, wild axolotls live their entire life in environments where they need to hunt prey actively to survive. They will not hesitate to eat baby cold water snails, small fish, or even resort to cannibalistic tendencies. Cannibalism is rare however, and mainly seen in juveniles and extreme circumstances.


It’s key to keep your axolotls fed regularly, every 2 to 3 days to ensure that they don’t attempt to make a snack out of other fish in the tank!

Axolotls are actually quite playful and calm when not searching for food, and will swim by the glass to see you when they notice you watching. Along with their classic smiling faces, they can make for a friendly aquarium pet.

Do Axolotls Bite?

Yes, axolotls will attempt to bite most things that come into their range. That being said, the axolotl’s head is full of tiny teeth which will likely not cause a human any harm.

… the axolotl’s head is full of tiny teeth which will likely not cause a human any harm.

In reality, axolotls are more likely to react as fearful creatures in the presence of humans. If an axolotl bite and won’t let go, attempt to gently separate their jaws while being as careful as possible, using a gentle hand.

Are Axolotls Poisonous

No, axolotls are not poisonous. Unlike some other species of salamanders which secrete toxins through their slime coat, axolotls have no sort of poison or venom in their system.

Close up of a Wild Type Axolotl
(2) Wild type axolotl may look dangerous but they are harmless!

Do Axolotls Like Being Handled?

While we like to think that any pet we own simply loves to be touched and cuddled as much as we want, axolotls are an exception.

Not only will the axolotl feel uncomfortable simply being out of the water in the tank and on dry land, but the presence of a large potential predator (aka the pet owner) can cause undue stress.

So in answer no, axolotls do not like being handled outside of their tank.

Can You Touch Axolotls?

Yes, you can touch an axolotl without causing immediate harm. That being said, you want to be incredibly delicate if you touch them, as their thin skinned-bodies and exposed gills are incredibly sensitive.

Generally speaking, you want to go slow when trying to touch an axolotl. Moving quickly and aggressively will signal that they are in danger of predation and may cause them to become stressed as they attempt to avoid you.

Things To Remember If You Hold An Axolotl

If for some reason you do need to move your axolotl and must touch it, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind when handling.

These will help keep the health of your axolotl intact, and keep them from becoming overly stressed.

Wash Your Hands Before Handling Axolotl

Like it or not, human hands are often quite dirty!

Wash your hands whenever you need to handle your axolotl, whether for an extended period or even short encounters. This will help to prevent the spread of any diseases, bacteria, or parasites that may be on your hands to their bodies.

Don’t Touch The Gills And Head

As previously mentioned, these are the most sensitive, delicate parts of your axolotl. Think of the gills as a portion of their lungs, but exposed, and this will give you some idea of how important it is to keep harmful bacteria off of them.

How To Touch Axolotl

While not advisable in most circumstances, there are occasions such as a water change or tank transition in which a pet owner may need to hold their axolotl.

Axolotl hiding in a stump in a tank
You probably want to clean out their coves ever now and then

Remember to wash your hands to prevent the spread of diseases, and use a gentle touch with two hands, like holding a small bird.

If you’d like to provide food for your axolotl by hand, owners can actually do this without touching them!

Holding the food in front of them, releasing it and allowing them to eat freely. This can give you a great feeling of interaction with your pet, without having to potentially hurt their organs or protective layer.

How Do You Grab An Axolotl?

Using two hands, grab around the midsection of the axolotl, keeping clear of the gills. You’ll want to separate the legs in order to prevent them from thrashing and potentially damaging them.

If you’re moving your axolotl to a tub, here’s a video showing you how to do that.

Picking up an axolotl doesn’t have to be scary!

Can You Hold Axolotl Out Of Water?

The axolotl, being an amphibian, does possess lungs in addition to their gills which allow them to breathe for short periods when kept out of water.

You can hold them out of water if you need to transition them out of the tank, but keep in mind that you want to be as gentle as possible, hold the axolotl properly, and avoid doing so for extended periods of time.

How Long Can They Stay Out of Water?

Thanks to their lungs, these amphibians can stay outside of their aquariums for several hours at a time.

However they will see negative effects to their health after as little as one hour when kept out of water, as their skin begins to dehydrate.

Additionally, if you keep your delicate pets outside for an extended period you leave more chances for something bad to happen to their delicate organs, limbs or skin. Their limbs are designed to support them in the buoyancy of the water, and longer periods out of the tank can mean damage to their legs.

What Happens To Axolotls When They Are Out Of The Water

There are a variety of negative effects that being on dry land can have on the body parts of the axolotl.

Being a creature entirely adapted for the aquatic environment, your pet should be treated more like fish than other, more terrestrial amphibians.


One of the biggest dangers to your axolotl right off of the bat, stress can lead to all kinds of negative health consequences.

Simply being on dry land and out of the safety of their tank will cause your axolotl to feel stressed, meaning that its immune system functions will be compromised.

Axolotl staying under the cover of rocks
Axolotl like to retreat to their coves when stressed

This means more potential for harmful diseases, bacteria, and parasites to invade their body in this weakened state, which can severely harm your axolotl’s body parts.

Being slow and gentle, avoiding sudden or aggressive movements, and making the entire process of removing your axolotl from its tank as smooth and fast as possible are the best ways to reduce stress when handling.


Damage to the gills or limbs of your axolotl is one of the largest hazards to avoid whenever you need to handle them. These are some of the more sensitive areas, as both gills and legs are more adapted to the support provided by water than gravity on land.

If possible, try to avoid having your axolotl resting with their weight supported by their own legs, as this can cause damage to these sensitive, somewhat weak limbs.


Your axolotl’s body needs constant moisture in order to remain fully hydrated and function properly.

If axolotls stay after as little as one hour, their skin will begin to dehydrate, which impacts the ability of their protective layer of outer mucus to fight off threats such as disease.

Additionally, their gills can begin to dry out as well, meaning that they will have difficulty breathing even after returning to the tank.


Throughout today’s article we’ve looked at whether you can or should hold your axolotl out of water.

The short answer is that while you technically can hold this pet, it should only be done in necessary situations and even then for as short a period as possible to prevent any undue damage.

Feel Free To Share!

As always I want to say thanks for reading today’s article “Can you hold axolotl?”. I hope it was helpful in deciding what to do with your pet axolotl.

Feel free to continue referring traffic to this and other posts on the site, and I wish you the best of luck on your continued aquarium adventures!

(1) Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) – Leucistic by John P Clare – licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
(2) Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) – Wildtype – by John P Clare – licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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