Are Axolotls Illegal In California? If So, Why?

If you are a Californian and are looking to get an Ambystoma, one of the questions you need to ask yourself is, “Are axolotls illegal in California?” Exotic pet lovers all over the world are familiar with the axolotls, the fully aquatic salamanders, with tiny eyes and a perpetually smiling mouth. In fact, these amphibians resemble fish more than they do salamanders and have their own set of frilly gills.

Are Axolotls Illegal In California Are Axolotls Illegal In California? If So, Why?

Are Axolotls Illegal In California?

Pet lovers will be disappointed to know that axolotls are illegal in California. There are various reasons for that, including this amphibian is an endangered species and is a non-friendly animal that can cause harm to other animals.

Unfortunately, while axolotls can make excellent pets, you cannot have an axolotl as a pet in California under state law.

In this guide, we can help you understand whether axolotls are illegal in California and other parts of the United States. 

We will also help you understand why it is illegal, what will happen if you are caught with an axolotl, and what the penalty for raising an axolotl in California is.

As an animal lover myself, I was saddened to discover that California has banned keeping these animals as pets.

However, according to various sources that conserve the local ecosystem, it is also the right thing to do.

Can I Keep an Axolotl in California?

It is illegal to own axolotls, not just in California, but a few other US states as well including Virginia, New Jersey, and Maine. 

These animals are also illegal to own in certain provinces of Canada. In Mexico, it is legal to own an axolotl but owners are not allowed to import them from one state to another.

In California, special laws have been placed keeping in mind the best interests of the local ecosystem, the public’s health and safety, as well as the axolotl themselves, which are considered endangered now.

The ban in California does not stop at axolotls. 

It stands for other Ambystoma species as well, including mole salamanders, tiger salamanders, spotted salamanders, and more.

So legally, you cannot keep an axolotl as a pet in California.

However, if you still want it for any reason, you need to get a written permit from the authorities in California which will request an assurance that you will keep the amphibians in a humane way. 

They also need to be contained and cannot be allowed to interact with the local wildlife. 

The authorities will also let you know how long you can keep the axolotl in the state.

Your axolotl will also need to be taken in for vet exams regularly or checked by an inspection team.

However, this permit is not granted to just anyone. Plus, they are very expensive these days.

Hence, for the most part, axolotls are not the best pets to keep in California.

If you break any of the laws or bring in the pet without the proper permit, you will have committed a crime and you will be penalized accordingly. You cannot plead ignorance of the law as a defense, either.

It may be possible that some local fishermen and game suppliers are not aware of these laws and may be selling axolotls.

However, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is clear on the fact that axolotls are not suitable pets for anyone living in California.

Are Axolotls Illegal In California 1 Are Axolotls Illegal In California? If So, Why?

Why are Axolotls Illegal in California?

Owning, selling, or keeping axolotls in California is completely illegal. 

These states have laws that have been designed to protect the native wildlife, agriculture, and general public health and safety, and axolotls have been found to not be in their best interests.

I have added some of the main reasons why these amphibians are not legal in California:

Non-friendly Species

Although their cute smiles seem to say otherwise, axolotls are not the friendliest of animals and do not like to interact or socialize with other animals, whether it is fish, small reptiles, or even other axolotls.

When in close contact with other animals, axolotls can attack and harm them. 

This is the reason why these animals are illegal in California, need to stay contained (if you have a permit for them), and cannot absolutely be placed in open waters.

Environmental Threat

Another very important reason why axolotls are outlawed in California is that they have the potential of posing large environmental threats if they are released into the wild, whether by accident or purposefully.

If axolotls are released into the wild, they can easily outcompete other struggling native salamander species like the California tiger salamander, which can lead to their extinction.

In addition, they also have the potential of becoming an invasive species which can lead to unforeseen harm to the local ecosystem of California.

Endangered Animals

One of the biggest reasons for the ban on axolotls in California is that these animals are in grave danger and their numbers are dwindling day by day. 

They are now considered to be an endangered species at high risk of extinction.

This is the reason why they have been banned from interbreeding with other salamander species.

One of the reasons for the extinction is the increased use of pesticides in soil, which leaches into the water, poisoning and destroying the animal’s natural habitat.

Another reason is that axolotls have been bred in captivity for several decades until they no longer have the same genetic and behavioral aspects as wild axolotls. 

These axolotls are interbred with tiger salamanders, are genetically modified, and have been bred generation after generation without exposing them to natural selective forces, making them a completely different species from that found in the wild.

This is also the reason why if these captive axolotls were to be released into their native habitat, they will not be enough to stop the extinction of the wild axolotls.

Axolotl Protection

Axolotls are a critically endangered species. These amphibians can lay thousands of eggs at a time, but their native lands have become so polluted that this creature had to pull back to the wetland areas in the Mexico Valley.

Although becoming a pet could help boost its population, keeping an axolotl in California may do them more harm than good. Axolotls require cool temperatures in their water tank, but California is prone to heat waves.

Where in the United States Is It Legal To Own an Axolotl?

You can own an axolotl as a pet in every U.S. state except for California, Virginia, New Jersey, and Maine. Axolotls may also not be owned as pets in Washington, DC.

What Other Pets Are Illegal in California?

Most exotic pets, including alligators, bats, and bears, are illegal in California. However, some interesting and surprising animals are illegal in California. For example, African Claws Frogs, gerbils, and hedgehogs are illegal to own in California.

What Will Happen If You Bring an Axolotl in California Illegally?

If you have brought an axolotl or any other animal into a state where it is banned, you are in a very precarious position.

If you are caught with an axolotl in your possession, it will be a violation of the state law and you will be charged with a crime.

If you were unaware of the ban in California and only later became aware of it, I recommend that you do the following things as soon as possible.

Inform the Californian Authorities

The smartest and most socially and environmentally responsible thing for you to do is to contact your local wildlife authorities and let them know you are keeping an axolotl.

The authorities will guide you on the next steps you should take and how to keep your axolotl. 

Also be prepared for the authorities to come and take away your axolotl.

It can be heartbreaking to hand over your beloved pet to someone else, but know that from then on, your little salamander will be under the protection of the state.

Stop Breeding Them

If you have more than one axolotls and have been breeding them, you need to stop it. Immediately separate the male axolotl from the females. 

In some cases, you may also want to euthanize any eggs that your axolotls produced. 

However, if you do not feel that you cannot do this, the local authorities will do this on your behalf.

The sooner you euthanize the eggs, the better.

Terminating the eggs before they can develop a nervous system will ensure that the little salamanders do not feel any pain.

Don’t Distribute the Eggs

If you are in possession of any axolotl eggs, you should absolutely not distribute them to other people in California. If you do this, you will also be putting those individuals in violation of the law

In addition, it will be very difficult for the authorities to trace the axolotls when the eggs hatch and develop into adults. 

What is the Penalty for Owning Axolotls in California?

When it comes to exotic pets, California has very tough laws. 

If someone is caught with an axolotl as a pet, they will be punished under the California Fish and Game code.

The penalty may include a cash fine of anywhere between $500 to $10,000, with the additional cost of having the animal removed, contained, and cared for.

In some severe cases, it can lead to imprisonment of up to six months.

Can I Get an Exotic Pet License To Own an Axolotl in California?

You can own any salamander or newt in the state of California that is not a member of the genus Ambystoma.

While the state of California will issue permits to own or have certain animals–including axolotls–for research purposes, you cannot own any restricted animal for private pet possession.

There is no way to own an axolotl as a pet in California legally.

What Salamanders Am I Allowed To Own in California?

While axolotls may be the cutest salamanders, they are endangered and pose a threat to California’s native wildlife should they escape captivity. Fortunately, there are many species of salamander that you can own. 

The following genera of salamanders have no restrictions under state law:


The genus Eurycea contains brook salamanders, native to North America. This genus includes other adorable salamanders like the Cave Salamander (E. lucifuga) and the Long-Tailed Salamander (E. longicauda). 


The salamandra genus includes a subset of salamanders native to Europe and Central Asia. This genus includes the alpine salamander (S. atra) and the fire salamander (S. salmandra)


Salamanders in the genus Plethodon are usually called woodland salamanders or slimy salamanders. They are native to the United States and Mexico. Woodland salamanders, such as red-backed salamanders (P. cinereus), make good alternative pets to axolotls. 


The genus Andrias contains what is more commonly known as giant salamanders. Giant salamanders suit their names and can be extremely large, making them good pets only for those with the space and experience to care for them.

The biggest salamander species in the world, the Chinese giant salamander (A. davidianus), is a member of this genus. A full-grown Chinese giant salamander can be up to nearly four feet long and can weigh more than sixty pounds.


The Desmognathus genus of salamanders is native to the eastern United States and south-eastern Canada. They are called dusky salamanders. Members of this genus include the adorable spotted dusky salamander (D. conanti) and the pygmy salamander (D. Wrighti).


Notophthalmus is a genus of newts native to eastern North America. This genus includes the Eastern Newt (N. viridescens), a bright orange spotted newt that is a trendy pet in the U.S., though it is notoriously difficult to care for.


Cynops is a genus of newts native to Japan and China. The most famous member of this genus is the fire belly newt (C. pyrrhogaster), sometimes also called the fire newt. This species is a very popular pet that grows four to five inches long and lives for up to 25 years. 


The genus Taricha contains newts, collectively called Pacific newts, western newts, or rough skin newts. These newts are native to areas along the Pacific coast of North America. 
The California newt is a popular pet, though it is toxic like all species within the genus. You should always wash your hands after touching a California newt, as it secretes a neurotoxin that will likely kill you if ingested. Nonetheless, California newts are very popular salamander pets.