Genetics in African Pygmy Hedgehogs have never been fully researched. There was a chart with some guesses at genes, but it never got off the ground. In 2015 we decided to set up a research in genetics and, eventually, get a full researched and clear color guide.
Why is the knowledge of genetics so important?
The species is based on just a small group of hedgehogs that were exported from the wild to be held as pets. All of our hedgehogs are born out of those hedgehogs and that makes it a very small, unstable gene pool. When you start breeding with an unstable gene pool, it creates a species of pets with many health problems, as we see clearly in African Pygmy Hedgehogs. Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (WHS), diabetes, obesity, kidney diseases, and so on, are health issues that are widely known in this species.
Eventually, when breeding with that small and unstable gene pool, the color lines start to develop and, after a few years, they will become stable. But the health issues remain and, after so long, nobody really knows where the issues started exactly. Did they come with certain colors that popped up over time or is it just a general weakness? Nobody really knows. And that is where genetics start to be a solution. When the genes which determine the color are known you can start another research. A research where you collect a list of hedgehogs with health issues and which colors they have. With that list it is just a simple search game to find that one piece of the puzzle and see if the issues are linked to colors or if they are specific to hedgehogs only. Maybe even specify one species of hedgehogs: African Pygmy Hedgehogs!
By ruling out a color that causes these health problems to come through, you can improve the health of the animals in the next generation and thereby the entire species. Well, if it’s that easy…
Do you have an example?
Yes, we sure do! Although there are multiple examples to give, we’ll take Megacolon in rats. Megacolon is a hereditary bowel disease. It’s a defect of the nerves between the intestines and the brains, causing a loss of control of the intestines. The symptoms can differ, but the outcome remains the same: the rat will die.
Megacolon is a hereditary disease, but rats with a heavily white coat are prone to have it. It’s likely that the disturbance in the production of pigment -which is common on rats with the color Husky (see picture below) as they lighten up when aging- has influenced the formation of the intestinal tract. The rat that is born has no normal bowel function and is unable to defecate, this causes severe consequences.
Breeders are aware of the fact that rats with the color Husky are prone to this bowel disease and will observe their offspring continuously. When a litter is born with this disease, most breeders will end that bloodline and never breed with it again. This way, their lines stay healthy.
Rats with color ‘Husky’ – Photo’s by Danielle Olree.
In this chapter
We’ve made a few sub-pages to explain genetics in a fun and easy way. This way you can learn about genetics and how to work with it when breeding.
What is genetics?
Genetics is the science of explaining and declaring inheritance. Organisms can transfer characteristics to their offspring. These hereditary characteristics can skip a generation or two, depending on the form of inheritance (see: Forms of inheritance), but they go from parents to their offspring. All hereditary characteristics together are called the genotype.
Genotype and phenotype
The genotype is the package of all heriditary characterstics bundled together. All characteristics that determine the looks, behaviour and other noticable performance are called the phenotype. Because not all characteristics are inheritable, the genotype and the phenotype are two different aspects. While the genotype is about all things inheritable, the phenotype is the result of the genotype plus the surroundings of the organism.
Forms of inheritance
There are different ways for characteristics to inherit.
Dominant, recessive, co-dominant, incomplete dominance, sex-linked and after these, modifiers play a part as well when you want to breed a nice hedgehog with a blaze. But how do all of these form of inheritance work? We’ll teach you all about it on a dedicated page!
The genes of African Pygmy Hedgehogs
To give you a full analysis of all the genes in African Pygmy Hedgehogs that cause the colors and patterns of this species, we’ve made a full page with explanations about the way that the genes interfere with the production of pigment, how each gene inharites and other things you need to know about any of them.
How to make a genetic calculation
If you know which genes your hedgehogs have and want to find out which colors their offspring would get, it is quite handy to know how to do a genetic calcuation. Bear in mind the forms of inheritance, because you won’t be able to decode the outcome when using multiple genes in a calculation.
This is the new colorguide, based on our research in genetics. Some names of the colors may be changed. This is because some of the old names could be very confusing (like Dark grey and Grey, or the charcoal names for Snowflake mutations). In this color guide, we’ll explain how each color should look like, which genecode the color has and if it’s a color or a pattern.