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History of the Colours

Written by Bryan Smith of Hedgehog Central (external link)

How it All Began

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!

Skin Colour

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...

Nose Colour

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.

Algerian Colours

Written by Bryan Smith of Hedgehog Central (external link)

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to distinguishing Algerian from White-Bellied colours. This isn't surprising considering the similarities - and misconceptions - between the two.

To understand Algerian colours is to understand the genesis of the domestic hedgehog. You see, the domestic hedgehog is the result of the crossing of two distinctly different species of African Hedgehog - the White-Bellied (Atelerix albiventris) and the Algerian. (Atelerix algirus)
While the two species were a compatible mix, blending the physical characteristics of each into the pet hedgehog of today, the colours proved incompatible and never did successfully blend. (The Apricot was the only colour to succeed in coming out of this cross, being a true mutation created when the cinnamon genes of the two species collided) As a result, we now have two distinct and separate colour groups within the colour classification system of the domestic hedgehog. The two species colour's cannot mix either. At no time will you ever see a <GM>, <CL>, or any other such inter-species mixing of colour chromosomes. There is a defined and impassable barrier between the colour groups. This is not, however, true of the physical characteristics. You may still see an Algerian-coloured hedgehog with White-Bellied physical features and vice versa.

In spite of the obvious incompatibility between the colour groups, they do mirror one another rather nicely. All variations of colour that exist in White-Bellied's also hold true for Algerian's. There are 15 dominant colours, running the gamut between Black and Apricot, as well as the complete set of recessives, dilutes, etc. Once you understand the genetic pattern for one species colour, you likewise have it for the other. The only real trick is in correct colour identification.

Contrary to contemporary belief, background quill colour is of little use in colour identification. Whether the quill is white or cream-coloured is generally nothing more than a subjective call. Instead, I have developed a system employing 5 different physical markers. They are:
  1. Forehead Quill Banding
    • The long, double-banded quills on the forehead are very helpful. If there is good, clean separation between the two bands, the hedgehog is in the White-Bellied colour grouping. If there is poor separation with a fair degree of colour or muddiness between the bands, then the colour is in the Algerian grouping.
  2. Skin Colour
    • The skin colour over the back is another excellent means of identification. If after reviewing the standardized colour guide you find that your hedgehog's quill colour fits the description given for a particular colour, but that the skin colour is darker, you are likely looking at an Algerian colour. Algerian colours have a skin colour that is a full 5 shades darker than their White-Bellied counterparts. (see skin chart)
  3. Mask Colour
    • Although the differences between mask colours in the two species is difficult to differentiate in colours in the Apricot to Algerian Chocolate range, (Algerian masks are somewhat lighter and more of a brownish tinge) they are very easy to distinguish in the Algerian Grey to Black range. The masks in these colours are considerably darker and extend well past the eye, almost to the point where the face meets the quill line at the side of the face. As well, many display "badger stripes," two stripes that extend from the mask, up the forehead between the eyes, to the quill line.
  4. Mottling
    • Mottling of the skin on the underbelly (similar to birth marks) is another good indicator. While White-Bellied Salt & Pepper, Dark Grey and Grey (and their associated variants) can and oftentimes do have mottling, all other White-Bellied colours do not. All Algerian colours, on the other hand, can display mottling to some degree. A Cinnicot with mottling, for example, must be an Algerian Cinnicot.
  5. Eye Patches
    • Eye patches are a very distinctive marking seen only in Algerian colours and the odd W.B.Champagne/Cinnicot. These are pale golden-brown patches of colour located just below the eye. They range in intensity from very pale and small in Algerian Champagne to a rich golden-brown and as much as 3/8 inch in diameter in the darker Algerian colours.

Colour Guide

Head over to Hedgehog Central (external link) to see the comprehensive color guide.

Colour Chart

Head over to Hedgehog Central (external link) to see the comprehensive color chart.

The Creation of the African Pygmy Hedgehog

The pet that we know as the African pygmy hedgehog does not naturally occur in the wild. The African pygmy hedgehog is a crossbreed between at least two different types of hedgehog (this number is thought by some to be 3 or more species of hedgehog), the Algerian Hedgehog and the Four Toed (White-Bellied) Hedgehog. The Algerian hedgehog is much larger than its white-bellied counterpart weighing up to 1000g, where the white-bellied hedgehog weights between 200-600g.

The Colour Issue

When the two hedgehogs were first bred it was assumed that their colour patterns would mix and a whole new colour pattern would be produced, but this was not the case. When the hedgehogs were bred, the offspring contained the colour features of one of the two types of hedgehog. In Layman's terms the colour genes of the two hedgehogs were not compatible and could not be mixed and therefor each hedgehog born can only display the color patterns of one of the species that was bred as it's ancestors (Algerian or White-Bellied in almost all cases).

What this Means

This means that when you receive your hedgehog, it will have either the colour pattern of the Algerian or the White-Bellied hedgehog, but not a mixture of both. So if your hedgie is say Algerian colored he/she is still a mix of breeds but has the color pattern of Algerian. The big differences are Algerian's have a larger more pronounced mask, their skin will have a darker purplish tint to it, their colors are darker and richer, and the skin is much more mottled. So if you put a White Bellied chocolate and an Algerian chocolate side by side the Algerian will appear darker.

The Future of Hedgehog Colours

"PixiesExoticHedgies? wrote:
Check out the Hedgehog Color Guide: (Site not listed as it is full of falsified information)

It has lots of very technical stuff about color genetics, mutations, etc. Only problem is, that you'd really have to "know your GENETICS" to understand most of it. But it will give you some examples and pictures of the various color possiblities. He does have some "blue dilutes" and "lilac dilutes" posted on his site! Here are a couple examples that came from his website."

"bryan wrote:
There are several problems with this site, not the least of which is the fact that the 2 photos of blue quills are in very young juvenile hoglets - possibly 2 weeks old. There is simply no way one can use such photos as evidence as this is not the adult colouration nor will it ever be! It is a period of time when both the visible and carried colour sets mix and are visible. By 4 weeks this hedgehog will be an entirely different colour and by 9 weeks, that hidden, or carried, colour set will no longer affect the visible colouration.

Let me start by saying that no blue hedgehogs have yet appeared. The mutation required has not occurred yet and is still only speculative. But, if a new mutation should occur, it will occur in the black side of the spectrum, leading to Blue.

The colours that Ryan Dickey claims are neither accepted by the international standard nor are many of them plausible. Ryan has time and time again patently refused to work with the hedgehog community and this is the result - fracture. Fortunately, this fracture has a very small following.

Please, don't follow his colour chart! We have spent 15 years trying to get everyone to speak the same language on hedgehog colours, and I can assure you that no strange new colours that aren't in the HHC and IHA colour guide have popped up in all that time.

Those are the facts, folks


"bryan wrote:
It actually is possible to get Blue... but not just yet ;)
Once enough breeders have worked with the black gene long enough, it'll crack and another 10 standard colours should theoretically, be available along with their associated variants - snowflake, white and double-white.

Bear in mind though, that when we first developed the colour guide, only 20% of the colours had been seen to that point in time. There was a discernible pattern to the colours, however, and with the exception of only 2 colours we were able to accurately predict what the missing colours would look like. I can't tell you the feeling of going to a show and being presented with one of those new colours and, based on the Colour Guide, be able to identify it based on the predicted markers for that colour.

So, to make a long story short, we have a pretty darn good idea what the next colour mutation will look like... it's blue... and it's only a matter of time before that one is cracked.


"bryan wrote:
It's only speculation, but it should be a medium-blue, similar to a pigeon or rabbit blue.


For the full posting on hedgehog mutations see: Hedgehog Central Forums - View topic - rarest hedgehog????? (external link)


  1. Hedgehog Central - History of Colours (external link)
  2. Hedgehog Central - Algerian Colours (external link)
  3. Hedgehog Central - Colour Guide (external link)
  4. Hedgehog Central - Colour Chart (external link)

Forum Topics

  1. Hedgehog Central Forums - View topic - rarest hedgehog????? (external link)

Created by: admin Last Modification: Monday 16 of March, 2009 11:07:22 EDT by admin

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