The Silver Gene in Angoras
What it is and why it matters.
A friend of mine gave me an english angora doe last fall. This doe was from a pair she had purchased to breed from another co-breeder friend. I had seen her as a baby and just fallen in love with her type and coat.
Imagine my shock when her coat grew out at my house, and I found her to have a huge amount of silver throughout her coat as a senior rabbit.
Steel was what originally came to mind There was a very slight chance she carried chin, and so the first order was to breed her to a REW and see if we indeed got REWs, or only blacks.
My next order of business was to breed her to an agouti. But in the meantime I started researching steel.
Steel is one of those genes that is often quoted but very often misunderstood. There are many people who seek to explain this gene in detail but here are the highlights.Steel is a gene that lives on the tort (e) locus. Rabbits can carry one set of steel, or 2 sets which will affect color. It is believed rabbits can not be a tort and carry steel.Steel plays with agouti. You could say they’re best friends and like to hang out a lot. Each makes the other visible. In order for steel to be fully expressed it need to have that agouti gene. Breeding a super steel or steel to agouti will create more steels.
Steel is either gold tipped, or silver tipped. Silver tipped steel means the rabbit is chinchilla. The chin gene changes the color from gold to silver.
Steel is a TICKED or BANDED color just like agouti. As part of the extension gene it ‘extends’ the agouti rings to the end of the fiber. So the color shows up as the base color (black, blue, chocolate, lilac) the ‘band’ of color whether gold or silver, and finally the base color again on the very tip of the hair shaft. Just like agouti, each hair is ticked, both undercoat and guard hair in the case of an angora, though it’s more noticeable in the thicker more pronounced guard hair in any breed.
Steel shows up at about 5-10 days of age just like a chestnut or other agouti. Starting first behind the neck it pops all over the body at once. Many breeders have been surprised by a rabbit who appeared black and then suddenly agouti. But a steel flipped over will have a dark belly not an agouti belly, as it pushes the light belly color away.
When I looked into this gene I realized she could not be steel. For the following reasons:
These hairs are not tipped with black and are haphazardly placed throughout the coat.
The color is wrong some hairs are white, some are tipped with white some are black. As I had learned steel is tipped the same on every hair shaft.
She most likely does not carry chin when I did not get pearls, or self chins when bred to a REW. In order to be a silver tipped steel she must carry chin. We also knew her sire, who was a tort, produced REW, and he was the only potential chin carrier in the pedigree. So while test breeding her to an agouti was still on the list, the next thing I started researching was scattered white hairs. And that brought in the silvering gene.
Silver!? Isn’t that only in silver fox, and silvers?
No.. It’s a lot more than that. There are several breeds that recognize silver colors.
Old time breeders will tell you ‘never breed scattered white hairs. It’s easier to breed out white spots than those white hairs’ as a kid this never made sense but I never questioned the wisdom. The answer quite likely to why that saying was so prevalent was the silver gene.The silver gene (si) is a recessive gene. However, one copy can still show silvering in a rabbit. So a rabbit with who is SIsi will have minor silvering, where a rabbit who is sisi will have major silvering.
Silvers are also affected by modifiers, so you will have a lot of silvering (d’argents) and medium silvering (Silver fox) and all over silvering (silvers) depending on what modifiers you are breeding for just like how broken modifiers affect broken patterning. Silver is kind of fascinating as it can be over agouti, and non extension along with self. The Silver breed has amazing examples of that.There is a solid school of thought that the silver gene is in many breeds, and has either been suppressed by culling it out, or else expressed by breeding for it in the silvered breeds.
Silvering differs from steel in the following ways:
Silver rabbits have black, silver, and black and silver split hairs. Depending on how each modifier is placed in the line of rabbit.
Silver rabbits are not agouti based, but an overlay color so they can be self, agouti, or tort based. Think of the silver as tinsel draped on a Christmas tree. It’s laid over the top. Silver rabbits are a DQ in most breeds, as scattered white hairs. Unless it’s a silver breed, it ruins the pelt - or in the case of angoras the wool.
Silver appears slowly on kits, starting typically at the nose, and on the flanks, then growing from there. A few scattered hairs on the nose, in the vent area, or on the flanks are a sign of issues later.
Which brings us to angoras. If this was silver, where did it come from and why.
Angora wool is much harder to determine color on than a short coated rabbit. The undercoat can trick your eye, and you have to watch carefully for white hairs. Most junior angoras have clear dark color though occasionally you will get a junior with silver hairs already. Those juniors very likely have a double copy of the si gene and will be more silvered as adults.
In a short coated rabbit, these would immediately be seen on the judging table and disqualified. Due to the wool, and the lighter colors present these fiber are often overlooked or not as obvious. This makes the gene able to move forward. Honestly I had seen stray white hairs in some hybrids and not been alarmed except at the fact that it led to a lighter returning coat color. Since this is undesirable in the wool market I had checked it off as a ‘thing to fix’ later. I think many of us do. The gene isn’t rampant enough in Satin Angoras for sure to make it a high priority. But these English threw me for a loop.
At the same time I saw this, I had a black junior who lost all his coat due to a fever. It grew back in with extreme scattered white hairs. His mom had a few. This made me exceptionally concerned. He was unrelated to the first doe who I had questioned. That baby was placed into a wooler home, but the mission had started.
I believe (and this is just my opinion) many of these rabbits are overlooked, or mistaken as silver tipped steel. I can see how it can happen. Any steel is easy to test breed, simply breed to a chestnut. You will get gold tipped steel which answers your question. Silvering is much more complicated. Bred to another silver, you’ll get more, but bred to a normal you’ll get less silvering. My answer for my herd, is a drastic eradication of it.
No rabbit from this line will be sold until I am sure that the genetics are gone.
Education of the silver gene and it’s application on wool will happen to all buyers of an Oceanside Rabbit.
As always test breeding will be done on all rabbits. The doe above will be used to test all herd bucks for the presence of the si gene.
Rabbits with scattered white hairs early will be taken out of the breeding program no matter how lovely they are.
I expect to within 10 generations be able to eliminate this gene from my herd. Others will have to make their own choice what they do with theirs and this information. But in rabbit breeds with smaller gene pools, it is easy to lose colors or influence the entire breed. English angoras of quality in colors other than non extension were almost lost due to the tort domination. It’d be easy for a recessive gene to completely take over the angora world and at some point the judges will get wise to this. As it is not steel, nor does it look the same as steel. In addition, angoras are a wool animal. A black fleece with white hairs is not nearly as exceptional as a black fleece with true color. As a breeder, ask yourself what do you want for the breed? Short term success or long term success?
**Note Since this article was written silvering has been observed in French, and a few satin angoras as well. It's a concern for ALL angora breeds and lines.**