Before I begin, I would like to make one thing very clear: I am not a professional genetic researcher. I do not have a degree in any genetics related field. In fact, I am a colour-breeding hobbyist. I started out many years ago by colour breeding pigeons and ferrets, later turning to the more difficult world of Peach Face Lovebirds colours, and finally to the ultimate challenge - hedgehogs!
The reason I say that hedgehogs are by far the greatest challenge I've yet encountered is because when I first became involved with hedgehogs in the early 1990's, no one knew anything about their mode of colour inheritance. When I acquired my very first Snowflake Coloured hedgie, I asked another breeder if this mutation was a recessive factor. After all, at that time Snowflake variations were about the only "sports" (non-traditional coloured) around and recessive mutations are usually the first to appear. The breeder had absolutely no clue and, after getting much the same response from other breeders I knew I had my work cut out for me. I had to at least try to unravel the mystery of the hedgehog colour code.
Following my initial assumption that Snowflake is a recessive factor, I set about to either prove or disprove my theory. My wife Anna and I set about to do this through several test breedings and, some 10 months later we were pretty much convinced that Snowflake is indeed a recessive variation of the dominant solid colours. Considering that no one else had even gotten this far had us both very excited and spurred us on to make even more discoveries!
In time, and with the invaluable assistance of Sharon Massena in Washington State and her herd of well over 200, we made discovery after discovery. In time, we were able to establish the "pattern" of the colours and the colour chart was born.
Granted, this chart is basic and uses the terminology of the breeder, but it has been used to fill in some of the colour "blanks" and has been used by successfully used by breeders since 1996 as it does give the breeder a better idea of how colours are formed and how best to achieve a particular colour through selective breeding.
As time goes by and as breeders continue to work with hedgehog colours, the many question marks on this chart will gradually disappear and be replaced by colour names. This process is, fortunately, a slow one. After all, this is half the fun!
If you look at the colour descriptions that are linked to the colours on the color guide, you will also notice that skin colouration (the skin over the back, under the quills in the shoulder area behind what should be the neck of the hedgehog [see picture]) plays a very important part in correct colour identification, as does nose colour. About three years ago a lovebird breeder suggested to Sharon and I that we should consider skin colour, we were not convinced and continued to focus our attention solely on the quills. Although it would be easy to call this a mistake, I prefer to think of it as part of the learning process. After all, we were working in unknown territory.
As it happens, both Sharon and I came to the same conclusion at the same time - skin colour is actually a better guide to correctly identify hedgehog colours by than quill colour is! In fact, it is so accurate that we now look at the skin colour first and only consider the quill colour as verification.
The way it works is fairly simple. Hedgehog colours in the darker end of the spectrum have darker skin, and those at the lighter end of the spectrum have lighter skin. as you can see by the chart to the right, the progression from darkest to lightest begins with Salt & Pepper and ends at Cinnamon. That's it! Nothing complicated or confusing. just look at the skin colour.
As simple as it is, however, there is one little trick to make it all even easier. Chocolate and Brown skin colour can sometimes be confused with one another. This is because Chocolate skin pales the lower you look on the hedgehog's side. They are darkest along the dorsal and pale to the lowest extremity of the skirt. Fortunately, this dark dorsal pattern is unique to the Chocolate colour so if you see it, you know you are looking at a Chocolate or one of it's variations such as Chocolate Chip or Chocolate White.
All of the colours below Cinnamon have pink skin like the Cinnamon. At this point you need to look at nose colour in order to make an accurate determination. Which brings us to our next heading...
By the time of the Go Hog Wild show in Chicago in 1997, I had already been working on using nose colour as another means of identification. Sharon and I had already had some success with colours in the Salt & Pepper to Cinnamon spectrum, but this was limited and was not yet to the point where it was usable.
Chicago, with all of the new hedgehogs to look at from all over the country changed that forever. Suddenly there was a whole range of colours sitting in front of me and, since I was the judge for the Saturday evening show, they were mine... all mine! The Apricot, through to Cinnamon specimens proved to be the most useful because it is here that the differences between nose colours is the most distinctive.
By the following morning I had seen enough hedgehog noses to see a distinct pattern that couldn't be denied. In fact, I even modified my lecture on colours that day to include this new information. I think the only person there who knew that this information was as fresh as it was was Sharon. Afterwards she came up to me privately and mentioned it, but everyone else didn't even question the fact that I had no written information available on nose variation. Such has been the pace of my education in hedgehog colours! No small steps. Just long,
unendurable delays followed by sudden leaps.
The easiest way to describe nose colour in a manner that is easily understood is to begin at the bottom (Apricot) and work my way to the top. (Salt & Pepper) This may be because it is the way I too learned it, but nevertheless, it does work.
Beginning at the bottom, Apricot's have solid pink noses. Moving up, we come to the Champagnes who have pink noses with a hint of liver colour around the outer sides. Ruby-Eyed Cinnicots have noses mottled about 50/50 with liver and pink, followed by Black-Eyed Cinnicots who have slightly heavier liver mottling. Next is the Dark Cinnicot which has a liver nose with an outer rim of pink. Cinnamon's are next with a solid liver nose. Can you see the pattern here? Above Cinnamon and working towards S & P is the Brown. These have liver noses with a hint of black around the rim. Next is Chocolate with a very dark liver nose, followed by Grey, Dark Grey and S & P's, all of which have black noses.
The pattern is simple, easy to see, and even easier to follow. Unfortunately, it only works well with White-Bellied colours. Algerian colours beyond the Champagne and Cinnicot colours all have black noses.