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Hedgehog Color Guide

This color guide is a work in progress as it has become clear over the years that the color system that I learned early in my days as a hedgehog judge is not valid. The original system was based on the assumption that the reason for some of the variation is that our pet hedgehogs are a hybrid of the white bellied and Algerian hedgehog species. It sounded like a good idea at the time, after all, there were no photos available of Algerian hedgehogs to compare.

Now, new information is available and if you look here and here, you can clearly see the that there is no way that the high pigment colors previously referred to as Algerian are a characteristic of Algerian hedgehogs. However, at the time of this writing, pretty much nothing is known about the actual genetics behind hedgehog colors. The information that I bring to this page is based on my personal observations from raising more than 30 generations of hedgehogs, as well as input from other breeders with similar experience.

Before tackling the topic of colors, it seems appropriate to talk about patterns. There are a number of definite patterns that can be clearly observed and reproduced. The comments below are based on my observations and experiences and may or may not agree with what others have observed.

Pattern name Picture Comments
Albino Image may contain: grass, outdoor and nature

Albino

Albino hedgehogs are much like any albino animal, with the pink to red eyes and a lack of pigmentation in the skin and quills. Albinism does affect eyesight, but this is not a problem for hedgehogs because they orient with smell and even a completely blind hedgehog can get around just fine. Albinism in hedgehogs only affects eyesight and color, it does not appear related to any other health conditions.

It should be mentioned that breeding an albino hedgehog to a hedgehog of another color does not mean you will get babies of the other color. It isn't that simple. You can breed an albino to an apricot and get chocolates.

Leucistic/Pinto Image may contain: outdoor

Black Eyed White

No photo description available.

Chocolate Pinto

Chocolate Reverse Pinto with Red Eyes

In other species, leucism is described as a partial loss of pigmentation. A quick search of the Internet will find quite a few sites that explain that it is not partial albinism, even though it looks like it, because the eyes/vision are not affected.

This category is somewhat controversial because this pattern has often been described in the hedgehog arena as "partial albinism." It comes down to whether you believe that it's a pigmented hedgehog with white patches or a white hedgehog with pigmented patches/pigmented eyes. I don't want to make any assumptions about the genetic underpinnings, but it does seem fair to say that appearance wise, these hedgehogs appear similar to other animals that are labeled leucistic, with the exception of those who show this pattern and have red eyes. Until genetic information is available, I will go with the theory that hedgehogs like to keep us guessing. ;)

In general use, we call a hedgehog like the first one, who has no pigment other  than in her eyes, a black eyed white.

The second hedgehog, who is black and white with dark eyes, fits the pattern of leucism. This would be called pinto (spotted).

The third hedgehog is what we would usually call "reverse pinto" because there is more white than pigmented area. With the red eyes, it's easy to see why it's been assumed that this is partial albinism.

I look forward to the day that the genetic code is unlocked and we really know why! In the mean time, it seems easiest just to call the hedgies who fit this pattern "pinto" or "reverse pinto" regardless of eye color, as the best current explanation for all three patterns shown here appears to be leucism.

Snowflake Image may contain: outdoor

Chocolate Snowflake or Chocolate Chip

The snowflake pattern is when there are white quills with no bands mixed in with banded quills. Unlike the leucistic pattern, this does not create spots as the unbanded quills are interspersed.

Previously, it was described that if hedgehogs had fewer than 20% unbanded quills, they were not considered snowflake. 20% to 80% unbanded quills was labeled snowflake, 80% to 5% was called white, 5 or fewer banded quills was called double white, and no banded quills was called black eyed white.

At this time, it seems more effective to call all hedgehogs with unbanded quills interspersed with their banded quills "snowflakes. " That description can be modified by describing the estimated amount of unbanded quills (such as, "He's a 50% snowflake" or "She's an 80% snowflake") or by using the terms "high" (a lot) or "low" (not a lot).  It would also seem appropriate to keep using the term "white" for snowflakes whose high number of unbanded quills give them the appearance of being largely white.

Now that we come to the topic of color, remember that we have no actual genetic information, just observations. In the original color system training I received, there was a distinction made between what was assumed to be "white bellied genes" and "Algerian genes." Hedgehogs do demonstrate consistent patterns of high pigment/low pigment traits that hang together and are transmitted to the offspring, but we know now that it isn't due to hybridization. We also know that there can be high pigment and low pigment siblings in the same litter.

Looking to other species (cats, horses, pigeons, hamsters), there are explanations for these patterns that do not require any theories about hybridization. It appears that in some species, the default pattern is low pigment and that if a modifying gene is present at a certain locus (place on a gene), it creates the darker pattern. In other species, the default is the high pigment and the presence of the modifying gene at a certain locus mutes the color. We don't know the genetic code so we can not assume which state (low pigment/high pigment) is the default and what is due to the modifier.

It does seem fair to describe these differences and to be able to refer to colors as the high pigment or low pigment variations of a color. Understanding that this is a term of convenience for now, to provide a common vocabulary for describing hedgehogs, the chart below demonstrates characteristics that would differentiate high pigment and low pigment variations of color. These categories are not absolutely clear cut, so you may have a hedgehog that isn't a perfect example, but I think you'll find that most lean clearly one direction or the other.

Low Pigment High Pigment
Little to no mask, no "badger stripes" and little to no "cheek patches." Pronounced mask that may include "badger stripes" on the forehead and cheek patches
Little to no pigment on the skin unless it's a gray or chocolate. If mottling is present, it is generally more like foot socks. Skin is pigmented and mottling may be present on the legs and underbelly.
Colored quill bands never seem to have an orange or reddish hue to the bands. Colored quill bands may have an orange or reddish hue to the bands, making them appear somewhat violet (lighter colors) or sienna (darker colors). 
Color shows low degree of fade over time. Color often fades quite a bit over time, so that the hedgehog may appear two or three shades lighter by age 2 than it did when it was younger.
Red eyes on hedgehogs who are in the apricot range. Dark eyes, even on those in the apricot range.
Pink noses on the lighter end of the spectrum. Noses are generally liver and not pink on the lighter end of the spectrum.

I cringe at using photos to show these differences because there is so much that gets washed out in the lighting, as well as the different ways that computer screens can distort colors. However, it's the best we have and will give you pointers of things to look for when you have actual hegehogs in your hands!

Tamris and Pazia, below, are hedgehogs that would be considered "cinnacot" with quill  bands that are brown fading to orange. Without natural lighting in the photos, it is hard to see the orange. Ulu and Wombat, below, are both chocolates with very deep brown banding. You can see that Wombat has a slightly more reddish sheen to his quills and fur than Ulu.

Low Pigment High Pigment
Image may contain: text

Pinkish nose, very little mask, no pigment to the skin under her quills, no mottling, red eyes.

Image may contain: text

Liver nose, mask with cheek patches, dark eyes, pigment on the skin underneath her quills.

No photo description available.

Dark brown nose, light mask with no cheek patches or badger stripes, dark eyes, a little mottling on legs, some pigment to skin under quills, black eyes.

Dark brown/almost black nose, dark mask with cheek patches and badger stripes. extensive mottling on legs and belly, black skin under quills, black eyes.

Hedgehog colors seem confusing because we were all taught Mendel's punnet squares to figure out what colors should be produced when you put two and two together, but mammals are not as simple as Mendel's peas. This example from dog colors helps to illustrate how much more complicated it can be.

Observation over time supports the theory that there are several basic genes that control hedgehog colors. Using the already established names, these would be black, cinnamon, and apricot. There are blends of these colors that result in what has been called grey, chocolate, cinnacot, champagne, an so on. Using the traditional color chart, it can be very difficult to match hedgehogs to the exact color name. For example, most people can not tell the difference between an apricot and a champagne, or a brown, cinnamon, and dark cinnacot. I have had the experience of sitting at a table with at least four trained judges who can not agree on some of these fine discriminations.

With this being the case, how useful are the color charts?

If you look at hedgehog color charts that are attempting to be comprehensive, you will see quite a bit of overlap and confusion. For charts that do seem to neatly show categories that seem clearly identifiable, you will find in real life a whole lot of hedgies that can't be cleanly classified like the ones in the chart. Some show hedgehogs that look identical but label them differently.

I am not saying that all the old color charts should be thrown out, just that we need to look at color with an open mind and try not to make it overcomplicated. At this point, a color chart is useful if it can be used consistently and reliably by most people to identify hedgehog colors minimal training required.

The chart that I am posting below is a suggestion of how color can be viewed as a spectrum, to allow communication about colors by identifying where a color falls along that spectrum, rather than having to be so specific that it doesn't work.

So, how does this work differently?  Simplification. If almost no one can tell the difference between a pale apricot and a champagne, why not simplify by collapsing the categories to where they can be easily recognized as being in that range? Using the chart, you should be able to place almost every hedgehog in the correct category with only minimal training.

Chart for low pigment:

  Gray/Black Chocolate/Dark Brown Cinnamon/light brown Cinnacot/dark eyed orangey Apricot/red eyed orangey
Nose Black Dark brown to black Liver to brown Liver to pink Pink
Eyes Black Black Black Black Red
Quill Bands Black or nearly all black Dark brown, little if any black Medium brown, no black or orange Medium brown with a little to a lot of orange Orangey,  but may have some medium brown
Mottling Dark mottling on legs and belly common May have boots, usually none on belly Generally none Generally none Generally none
Skin Dark under quills Pigment under quills Pink under quills Pink under quills Pink under quills
Mask Black mask generally present No mask or minimal mask None None None

Chart For High Pigment

  Gray/Black Chocolate/Dark Brown Cinnamon/light brown Cinnacot/dark eyed orangey Apricot/red eyed orangey
Nose Black Dark brown to black Dark brown to liver Liver Pinkish liver to liver
Eyes Black Black Black Black Black
Quill Bands Black or nearly all black Dark brown, little if any black. May have a slightly reddish shade to the dark brown Brown, little if any black. May have a reddish/russet shade to the brown Orange with some brown toward the center of the banding; Can appear deep orangey or lilac Orangey, no brown. May be from light to dark orangey
Mottling Black mottling on legs and belly common Dark brown mottling on legs and belly common Brown mottling on the legs and belly common May have golden brown mottling on legs and belly May have golden brown mottling  on legs and belly
Skin Black under quills Black under quills Dark under quills Dark under quills Dark under quills
Mask Black, with cheek patches and often badger stripes Dark brown, with cheek patches and often badger stripes Brown/golden brown, with cheek patches and often badger stripes Light brown to golden brown, usually with cheek patches and may have badger stripes May have a golden brown mask, can have cheek patches or badger stripes

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Antigone Means

Iola, KS

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This page last updated by Tig on 07/06/19