The characteristics of transmittance and fluorescence changes of 4-(p-aminostyryl)-1-pyridinium dyes in response to voltage-clamp pulses on the squid giant axon were examined. A zwitterionic styryl dye displays transmittance and excitation spectra on the voltage-clamped squid axon with shapes similar to those previously measured on a model membrane system and consistent with a postulated electrochromic mechanism. The speed of the transmittance response is faster than 1.2 microseconds. The size of the fluorescence change is a factor of 40 lower than on the model membrane; this diminution can be rationalized in terms of the background fluorescence from Schwann cells and the nonoptimal geometric arrangement of the axon membrane. When the emission spectrum is dissected from the excitation response, a nonelectrochromic component is found. This component might result from molecular motion during the excited state lifetime. A positively charged dye permeates the axon membrane and displays complex response waveforms dependent on the method of application and the axon holding potential. This contrasts markedly with model membrane results where the behavior of the cationic and zwitterionic dyes were indistinguishable.