Figuring the Color on Baby Bunnies

by Glenna M. Huffmon

Some colors can only be guessed at on the newborn in the nest-box while others can be very obvious at birth or very shortly afterwards. Knowing the colors of the parents and therefore having some idea of what to expect helps to narrow things down in some cases.

I have learned after almost twenty years of breeding rabbits - mostly Netherland Dwarfs with their wide range of colors - that there is always a "fooler" going to show up now and then as a tease. There are also times when the rabbit has to be grown out and test bred before you can really be sure just what color it is.

Recently, I bred a REW who carries both agouti and dilute genes to a chinchilla that I knew carried a shading gene and the dilute. The doe that I kept from that litter had to be either a Squirrel or a Smoke Pearl agouti (Chinchilla) but it was difficult to really tell for sure. i bred her with a Siamese Sable buck. There were three babies in the box and in a few days it was apparent that two of them were Chinchillas. Therefore, the dam had to be a Squirrel, as she could never produce a Chinchilla baby if she did not carry a Chinchilla gene. The sire only had a shading gene and a REW gene to pass on.

The black, blue, chocolate and lilac selfs will show their color at birth and will have a colored belly along with the fully colored body.. Blacks will look black and the chocolates will be a light cocoa color.  The blues and lilacs can confuse many breeders but the blues ore more of a dark blue color whereas the lilacs usually appear a light silvery gray. The ruby-eyed whites and the blue-eyed whites are quite pink all over at birth but will show the white coloring in a few days.

The siamese sables and smoke pearls can also fool the breeder at times. Oh goody! I've got three smokes in the litter. Yeah, right! Look again as they get older and you might discover that they are siamese sables instead. If both colors are present in the litter, the lighter ones are probably the smokes and the darker ones are siamese sables. They both can look a silvery blue color at birth. These colors can also go through some really weird changes before finally showing their true color. Fortunately this process only takes a few days or so until their true color can be determined.

Seals (and the blue seal/blue smoke) are more difficult to tell. These two colors carry two shading genes or one shading gene and one himi gene. They are much darker than the correct siamese sable and smoke pearl colors. The seal is easily confused with a black while the blue seal closely resembles the blue self. The blue seal is not a recognized color in any breed but is many times shown and registered as a blue.

If both parents are shaded animals (or shaded and himi/pointed white) then it is a seal/blue seal and not a blue self. The same holds true for the seal/ black mix-up. If the parents are both shaded animals, the baby is a seal. In the older seal colored rabbit, the ruby glow to the eye should be evident in the right light, but this might not be apparent in the very young rabbit.   (All shaded colors and all chocolates will show this ruby red color to the eye if caught in the right light. Full color black and blue rabbits do not show this.)

To determine black or seal color on the adult rabbit check the color on the bottom of the feet. The true black will have a grayish color there while the true seal will be a chocolaty brown color.

One breeder suggested breeding the "black" with a REW to see what color the offspring might be. The breeder stated that "if the resulting litter contained a sable or smoke pearl, then is was not a true black but was a seal." This is incorrect as the true black could carry one full color gene and one shading gene and could then produce a sable or smoke when bred to a REW. That breeding would prove nothing except that the black carried one shading gene.

The tort colors are usually apparent at birth. The fort will look orange with smoky blue color on the points and belly. The blue tort will be a lighter fawn color with a silvery gray color on the points and belly. The chocolate fort, on the other hand, will look like a self colored orange. The chocolate points will show up later. The lilac tort simply resembles a self fawn color.  Here too, the lilac points show up much later - if they do show up. If the belly is cream colored it is a lilac tort. If the belly is white, it could be a fawn or a tort marten -- it all depends on the parents. Tort bred to tort cannot produce a fawn or marten. The fawn required an agouti gene and a marten required a tan-pattern gene.

Sable points will appear a very pale cream color. They may show the brown points at birth or it may take a few days for the point color to show up. Blue points will be a very pale cream color with a light silvery blue color on the points. The chocolate point also looks a very clear cream color with a light cocoa chocolate color on the points. The very rare lilac point color will be a very pale fawn overall. They may or may not show a light lilac point color as on adult. Sable points and chocolate points will have brown eyes. Blue points and lilac points will have bluegray eyes. Some breeders refer to the blue point as smoke pearl point.

Pointed whites, like the REW and the BEW, will appear a pinkish color at birth with the white fur coming a few days later. The point color can sometimes show up quite soon or take "forever" and not show up until two to three weeks of age. The first place to look for signs of color is on the top of the tail. This is followed by the color coming in on the nose, along the edge and back of the ears, on the feet and on the underside of the tail. The eye color will always be red/pink and the coat color will always be pure white.

Always check the underside of the tail on the pointed whites for color to make sure that the rabbit is not agouti or tan patterned - both of which are DQs in all breeds with this coloring. They must show color on the underside of the tail.

The agouti colors will all show a light belly color along with the typical agouti marking pattern. The chestnut looks black with the light belly. It will soon show the tan coloring on the triangle and around the nostrils. The coat will later also show the tan ticking with the black color. The head area seems to show it first. The other agouti marking will be white/off white, orange or tan color.

The chinchilla will look much like the chestnut with the exception of the gold and tan coloring. Where the chestnut normally shows gold or tan, the chinchilla will always be white or off-white in color. There is no gold, orange or fawn anywhere on the chinchilla colors.

The opal and squirrel can be told apart by the fact that the opal will soon develop the fawn agouti marking while the squirrel will not show anyfawn or tan anywhere in the coat color. The best place to look for the fawn coloring is at the triangle and around the nostrils. There will also be a fawnish tinge to the blue coat color while the squirrel, again, will show only silvery white. The squirrel color will never show any traces of fawn or tan anywhere.


The tan patterned colors - tons, sliver martens and otters will show a solid color and the body along with the pinky white belly. The best way to tell the difference is to look at the triangle color. Gold or fawn marking color and it is an otter. Silvery white marking color indicates a silver marten, sable marten or smoke pearl marten. Only the otter; and tons will have the gold or fawn trim color.

There are also a good many colors that con show up in the nest-box that are not recognized colors. The breeders must be able to recognize the unrecognized colors and know how to deal with them. Some can be very useful in the development of the recognized colors if the type on the rabbit is good. 

Identifying colors on the adult rabbits with the angora coat can at times be more difficult than on the babies as the long coat of the adult Wooly or Angora will pale out the body color in most cases. In this case the best idea is to look at the color on the face and head area. Also, the coat can sometimes show pseudo rings when growing out. If the coat on the head does not show rings, ticking, etc. it is not one of the agouti colors.

THE ERMINE and FROSTED PEARL (lops)

The color Frosted Pearl in the top color guide describes the coloring as a light pearl color shaded with a delicate tint of either black, blue, chocolate or lilac color. The color is to be evenly distributed over the main body area. The belly is usually just pearl white with no ticking. There is a slightly darker coloring seen on the points, The basic overall appearance of the coat color should appear to be rather "frosty". The eye color may be either brown or blue-gray. In the new 2001 standard, the Holland Lop will have a separate color guide and the Frosted Pearl will be called "Frosty".

There are many different genetic combinations that will produce these Frosted colors.  While these colors are listed under the shaded group in the top color guide, the color is genetically an agouti and is the same color(s) that many dwarf rabbit breeders refer to as "ermine". Again, the new standard for the Holland puts the Frosty in the AOV group.

The genetic makeup can be the Frosty/Frosted Pearl/Ermine is any of the following:

 Brown Eyes

A_ B_ c(chl)_ D_ ee

A_ bb c(chl)_ D_ ee

A_ B_ c(chd)_ D_ ee

A_ bb c(chd)_ D_ ee

Blue-gray Eyes

A_ B_ c(chl)_ dd ee

A_ bb c(chl)_ dd ee

A_ B_ c(chd)_ dd ee

A_ bb c(chd)_ dd ee

The color is lightest if the rabbit also carries one albino "c" gene with the c(chl) as they will blend to leave a even lighter color remaining in the coat and on the points.


The Hollander / Summer Issue - August 2000