In today’s article, we are going to be looking at different hedgehog colors. This can feel like a complicated and confusing topic, but our guide is here to make it more accessible to you.
We’ll start with a little history that will raise as many questions as it answers! Then we’ll go on to explore the full range of hedgehog colors and markings, adding in some genetics to explain how the different colors may crop up.
Finally, we’ll give you some advice on how to decide which variety your hedgehog is – if you are up for a challenge!
A Little Hedgehog History
Most of the early importation of hedgehogs to the pet trade in the US was carried out by Richard Stubbs, when he lived and worked in Central Africa, exporting exotic animals.
Before this trade was stopped in 1994, he, and other exporters who saw the huge profit to be made, were responsible for bringing around 80,000 hedgehogs from the region. The native species in Central Africa is the four-toed hedgehog.
These imports arrived in the US in large batches, and the second batch was noticeably different from the first (larger, darker animals, with cheek patches, masks, and mottling of color on the legs). It was assumed these were a different species – Atalerix algirus, the Algerian hedgehog.
However, several factors suggest that these hedgehogs were likely all variants of a single species: Atalerix albiventris – the white-bellied or four-toed hedgehog who came from Central Africa.
Species (by definition) cannot interbreed to produce fertile young. However, some closely related subspecies (who are separated by the geographical range and often have somewhat different physical features) can successfully breed and produce fertile offspring.
Algerian hedgehogs are classified as a unique species that could, therefore, not have successfully interbred with the four-toed species. Additionally, our domesticated hedgehogs all have one important physical characteristic of the four-toed species, four toes! All other species have five.
Since both imported ‘types’ have been widely and successfully interbred, there are two possibilities:
- The domesticated African Pygmy hedgehog is a mixture of two distinct variants of the same species (the four-toed hedgehog), both living in different areas of Central Africa.
- The Algerian hedgehog is the same species as the four-toed hedgehog and has been misclassified as a distinct species (unlikely).
The likelihood of them being two distinct Central African subspecies of the four-toed hedgehog is supported by the nature and geographical range of the two species.
It is extremely unlikely that Stubbs and co. had their trappers across the vast expanse of the Sahara Desert to Northern Africa to live-trap the Algerian hedgehog – a woodland species, only found in the far north and so shy that it is notoriously difficult to observe in the wild.
Hedgehog Colors Today
So why does all this matter? The term African Pygmy hedgehog was coined to describe the domesticated hedgehog, which is generally referred to as the species Atalerix albiventris in the scientific literature – the white-bellied or four-toed hedgehog.
The 2,000 imported hedgehogs in the initial export were small, with white-tipped quills, paler colors, and less extensive masks. This color distribution became what is called the standard colors.
The hedgehogs who were exported in the second (larger) shipment were somewhat bigger and darker (colors more intense) and often had cream quill tips. Their masks extended over their eyes and cheeks. These were thought to be Algerian hedgehogs, so this color distribution was called Algerian.
The color differences between these two groups have not mixed despite heavy interbreeding. Therefore, pet hedgehog colors have remained split into these two groups, which used to be determined by the color of their quill tips (white or cream).
Is My Hedgehog Algerian Or Standard?
Trying to decide whether hedgehog quills are white or cream is often tricky and very subjective.
The experts at Hedgehog Central have come up with an excellent system, using multiple pointers to help identify Algerian colors from Standard.
Here is a summary:
- Forehead quill bands have clean separation in the Standard varieties. Algerian bands are more muddied together.
- Skin color over the back of the shoulders is significantly darker in Algerian varieties.
- Algerian masks in the darker colors are a much deeper color and extend well past the eyes. In the paler varieties, Algerian masks are somewhat lighter and have a browner hue.
- Individuals in both groups in the Black, Dark Grey, and Grey categories can have mottling of the skin under the belly fur. But, for all paler colors, the Standard colors have no belly skin mottling, and the Algerian often do have belly skin mottling.
- Under-eye (sometimes called cheek) patches are present in all the Algerian varieties. They are absent from all but a few individuals in the Champagne/Cinnicot colors in the Standard range.
The full range of colors is duplicated in each of these groups. From a genetic perspective, this may be because an extra gene or group of gene modifiers are either intensifying or paling out the color and shading to create the ‘second’ group.
So, the physical traits of the imported hedgehogs have entirely mixed, but two distinct color variants remain.
What Color Are Wild Hedgehogs?
The wild four-toed hedgehog is generally an agouti. This dominant color gene is the standard for many wild mammals, including the rabbit, mouse, and rat.
The skin under the quills would be dark grey (almost black), and the mask would be grey with a brownish hue. The belly and face would be white, and the nose and eyes black.
This wild color is described as Dark Grey by Judith Bos, the only researcher we are aware of in the field of pet hedgehog genetics. In the scientific literature, it is called agouti.
The banding and fur color in the wild are often closer to the darker ‘Algerian’ color type. Extended masks are also seen in some wild four-toed hedgehogs.
Other dark (easily camouflaged) varieties exist in nature, including black (Salt and Pepper), but are much rarer than the dominant agouti. Sadly, paler color mutations would rarely survive to reproduce.
Many color and marking gene mutations have cropped up over the decades since hedgehogs were bred in captivity. Each has been selectively bred by the hedgehog breeders.
‘Standard’ and ‘Algerian’ Hedgehog Color Comparison
As explained, the colors referred to as “Standard” may already be a diluted version of the similar (but darker) colors referred to as “Algerian”.
Let’s look at the two most common varieties side by side.
Dark Grey hedgehogs
The agouti gene is the dominant occurring color and creates Dark Grey:
Black or Salt and Pepper hedgehogs
The recessive form of the agouti gene (when homozygous) creates black, which is called Salt and Pepper in the Standard colors and Black in the Algerian colors.
Hedgehog Color Dilution Genes
Other color genes dilute the color of either agouti or black, and this creates all of the other color varieties. If your hedgehog has more than one color in the bands on his spines, he is a diluted agouti.
If the colored part of the spines is all a single color, he is probably a diluted black. Color genes in hedgehogs (apart from agouti) are all recessive. This means that an individual must inherit the gene from both parents to express (be) the color.
Some color genes have been identified in hedgehogs, while others have yet to be described fully. So, we are able to see the result without necessarily knowing which genes are causing it.
The brown dilution gene produces the color Chocolate (or chocolate agouti). This mutation dilutes all the black pigment to brown, except for the eyes and nose, which are usually black. The nose can be dark liver.
Brown and Cinnamon hedgehogs
There are two other brown hedgehog colors, namely, Brown and Cinnamon. While these have yet to be described in terms of genetics. If we look to other species for reference, it could possibly be the dilution gene that generally produces mink (diluted black) and cinnamon (diluted agouti) coloration.
The hedgehog, who is a diluted agouti, will tend to be somewhat lighter and brighter than the one who is a diluted black. Just as an agouti (Dark Grey) is also lighter and brighter than a black (Salt and Pepper).
So, Brown and Cinnamon may well turn out to be the black and agouti versions of the same dilution gene. These would be generally be called mink and cinnamon in many other species.
Another dilution gene that makes all pigment less intense – and is often called Russian blue or blue in other animals – is described by Judith Bos as “causing a lighter version of the wild type and making the hedgehog Grey.”
Three other diluted colors come under the umbrella term Cinnicot in the hedgehog. There seems to be no agreement at all about what creates the variation of color and eye color (black through to red) in the Cinnicot group, and there is likely more than one dilution gene involved.
In some other animals, we have a red-eye dilution gene (which creates individuals with ruby/red eyes and orange/yellow pigment) and pink-eye dilution gene (which creates animals with pink eyes and orange/yellow pigments.
The red-eye dilution gene may be involved in creating the Ruby-Eyed Cinnicot, and the pink-eye dilution is a possible culprit to produce the paler-eyed varieties, like Champagne and Apricot. Nether gene explains the Black-Eyed Cinnicot and Dark Cinnicot (both of which have black eyes).
Just remember that all color variations are darker and more intense in the Algerian varieties.
Champagne, Apricot, and Pale Apricot hedgehogs
These are various shades of the orange/yellow spectrum, which could (possibly) involve the agouti and black variations of the pink eye dilution gene, possibly alongside other dilution genes. This is informed speculation and not the result of genetic research!
The pink eye dilution gene (seen across a range of animals) pales eye color to pale red/pink (darker than albino). It changes black pigments to cream while leaving yellow pigments unchanged.
So, we can see there are 12 color varieties:
- Salt and Pepper (Black),
- Dark Grey (agouti),
- Dark Cinnicot,
- Black-Eyed Cinnicot,
- Ruby-Eyed Cinnicot,
- Pale Apricot.
Hedgehogs can also be albino – a mutation that strips out all color pigments, including from the eyes and nose. An Albino is a pink-eyed, white hedgehog. Albino isn’t a color variety. Genetically, the albino could be any of the colors listed above, but the extra albino gene leaves the hedgehog without color.
Marking Patterns In Hedgehogs
The most common marking in hedgehogs is Snowflake, where 30% to 70% of the quills are white. Where this marking becomes close to 100%, it is called White.
A White hedgehog can still have some banded quills on the forehead and a very few on the back. Where there are no colored quills at all, the hedgehog is called a Double White.
The base color of the Snowflake, White, and Double White hedgehog is usually identifiable from the remaining colored quills and/or the fur, mask, eye, and nose color.
All the different base colors (both standard and Algerian) have a Snowflake, White variety too.
Standard Snowflake Names
So, for the 12 standard color varieties with Snowflake markings:
- A black (Salt and Pepper) Snowflake is called a Silver. An agouti (Dark Grey) Snowflake is called a Silver Charcoal.
- A Grey Snowflake is called a Charcoal.
- A Chocolate Snowflake is called a Chocolate Chip.
With all the remaining varieties simply add “Snowflake” to their name:
Brown Snowflake, Cinnamon Snowflake, Dark Cinnicot Snowflake, Black-Eyed Cinnicot Snowflake, Ruby-Eyed Cinnicot Snowflake, Champagne Snowflake, Apricot Snowflake, and Pale Apricot Snowflake.
Standard White Names
For the 11 standard color varieties with White markings:
- A black (Salt and Pepper) White is called a Platinum.
- An agouti (Dark Grey) White is called a Silver Charcoal White.
- A Grey White is called a Charcoal White.
With all the remaining varieties, simply add “White” to their color name – Chocolate White, Brown White, Cinnamon White (often just called White), etc.
There is no Pale Apricot White presumably because it was indistinguishable from Apricot white. So, 11 Standard White varieties.
Algerian Snowflake Names
These follow exactly the pattern of Algerian color naming with Snowflake added. So, Black Snowflake, Dark Grey Snowflake, Grey Snowflake, Chocolate Snowflake, Brown Snowflake, etc. Algerian would usually precede the color name to distinguish them from the standard varieties.
Algerian White Names
This system uses Black White, Silver Charcoal White, Charcoal White, then reverts to following the color naming pattern again with Chocolate White, Brown White, Cinnamon White, and so on. Algerian would usually precede the color name to distinguish them from the standard varieties.
Pinto Markings In Hedgehogs
These are essentially random markings created by groups of white quills on any Standard or Algerian color background. They can look quite dramatic and are a popular choice for pet hedgehog owners.
The patches can be small or large and develop over any area of the hedgehog. They differ from ‘Snowflakes’ by their randomness and because the color is lost from the skin underneath the affected quills.
Other Marking Genes
Several other markings that are seen in hedgehogs, such as blaze, odd-eye, mismatched ears, eye stripes, and split face.
What Variety Is My Hedgehog?
When a hedgehog is a juvenile, it is not always possible to give an accurate description of their coloring. Many colors look darker in younger hedgehogs, and some don’t develop properly until the hedgehog has undergone two periods of quilling – when old spines are replaced.
Hedgehogs are born pink and soon develop white spines. Within a few days, the darker varieties will begin to develop pigmentation of the skin and spines. However, skin color can both lighten and darken over time, and eye color can darken.
Therefore, it can be difficult to be accurate until all the major changes have taken place. Different breeders quote 3 to 6 months before accurate descriptions can be made. This variation probably depends on the varieties that they are working with.
When assessing your hedgehog’s color variety, you need to check the color of the skin between the shoulder blades, the eyes, the nose, the mask, the ears, and any mottling.
There is so much confusion amongst sources regarding the origins and genetics of domesticated hedgehogs that no article can offer definitive answers. The research needed has yet to be done. We’ve tried to offer you our best summary of what is known, along with some informed, plausible explanations.
Whatever you think about the history and colors of African Pygmy hedgehogs, we hope that you have enjoyed this journey and all the cute hedgehog portraits along the way.