Malignant melanoma of the skin (CMM) is associated with ultraviolet radiation exposure, but the mechanisms and even the wavelengths responsible are unclear. Here we use a mammalian model to investigate melanoma formed in response to precise spectrally defined ultraviolet wavelengths and biologically relevant doses. We show that melanoma induction by ultraviolet A (320-400 nm) requires the presence of melanin pigment and is associated with oxidative DNA damage within melanocytes. In contrast, ultraviolet B radiation (280-320 nm) initiates melanoma in a pigment-independent manner associated with direct ultraviolet B DNA damage. Thus, we identified two ultraviolet wavelength-dependent pathways for the induction of CMM and describe an unexpected and significant role for melanin within the melanocyte in melanomagenesis.