My 1983 “Lilac” Rats

In 1982 I was given a rat of an unusual colour, and began a breeding programme to discover more about the new shade. Some years later in 1987, two years after I stopped breeding rats the first time round, I wrote this article about them which I unearthed during a house move last year.
In 1982 I organised a show for the NFRS to be held in Street, Somerset; the first of the Wessex area shows. All that is past history now— the show attracted a large entry and was a great success, being held in conjunction with a small-pets show and attracting much media attention in the area.

But for me it was also the beginning of one of my most exciting periods of small animal breeding - I found a new colour of rat.
One of the exhibitors at the show who had travelled from Dorset to attend, mentioned that he had bought a weird-coloured rat at a pet shop in Wimborne, Dorset, and when I expressed an interest he agreed to bring the rat along for me to see. And I saw what I immediately suspected to be some kind of a dilute agouti. Blue Vinney - named after the rare Dorset blue cheese - was a variegated-berkshire of an unusual bluish, misty-looking agouti colour.
Vinney had recently had a litter, and I was given her, plus three of her babies sired by a Cinnamon buck. Vinney went to live with Ann Storey, and I began breeding with the trio of babies to produce more rats of this unusual colouring, dubbed Pastel.

MARIE was an Agouti Berkshire doe; HEATHCLIFF a Cinnamon hooded/capped buck; and the third, MUESLI, a similar Cinnamon hooded/capped doe.

I had several litters from the two girls Muesli and Marie, put to Heathcliff of course, and from the litters emerged more unusually coloured rats— notably, HELVA, a pastel doe (capped) and DAPPER, a capped pastel buck.

Amongst the babies were several well marked Variegated kittens who formed the basis of my Variegated line.

Some also had blazes on the head and face— MALLEN was an agouti variegated doe from this line who had an unusual Dutch-rabbit blaze.


And soon after, LIO was bred— the first rat of the colour I termed “lilac”. He was a capped with too much colour, but that colour which started out looking rather like Mink, turned into a lighter bluer shade. His children, when bred back to a Pastel doe, were also self (non-agouti) rather than agouti, and some were even more lilac-y, developing a lovely pink tinge when adult.

Critiques from the shows were directed at the minkish colour they appeared to be— they got short shrift as poor minks but I remained unconvinced; if the appearance was deceptive, I knew that genetically they were not mink and not cinnamon, they were something different. I kept Blue Vinney firmly in mind. If the “lilacs” looked Mink, the “lilac” pastel agoutis were definitely more of a difference from Cinnamon.

Rats being rats, the next stage was something of a slight accident. I now had several Pastels and one “Lilac”, all capped or variegated and I now needed to try and get them with more colour on the body, if only to prove a point. When a rat has colour only on the head, anyone could be forgiven for saying the colour couldn’t be properly seen. Nezumi provided the answer. She was a large and typy Siamese doe from Geof Izzard’s breeding, and she eloped with Lio one night! I kept one of the kittens, a beautiful big black Berkshire doe named Firân. Her markings weren’t bad for a Berkshire and she won a large Berkshire kitten class at the London Championship show that year. When bred back into the Pastel line I at last had rats of this colour with Berkshire markings rather than capped. But they still got the same old comment at shows: “poor mink.”
About this time my Variegated rats were coming on well and I was invited to send a pair over to the USA when the NFRS was contacted for export to the American rat fancy. pedigrees were requested and I added a rider to the effect that my rats - the Variegated - had come from an experimental line and could therefore be carrying unusual genes. As by now I had established to my own satifaction that the Pastel and “lilac” was recessive, there was a high likelihood that they did.

Other people had some of my Variegated and Pastel rats from me, and a few years later both Rosemary Quaid and Diane Wildman produced Black-eyed Whites by selectively breeding out the colour on lightly marked Capped and Variegated. Rats from my Pastels were included in their development.

I had to give up rats two years later and so my original experimental colours faded into obscurity. They still exist, though in what form I do not know. Perhaps the gene still exists, either beneath some of the Black-eyed Whites, or somewhere over the pond in the USA.

NOTES: 2002

Several years after I gave up rats, the geneticist Roy Robinson investigated the genetic make-up of Black-eyed Whites. He discovered a gene which he called h(e) = extreme hooded. Both Ann Storey and myself agree this gene is probably what my Pastels were, since the Black-eyed Whites he conducted his experimental breeding with were obtained from Rosemary Quaid, who had used a number of my Pastels in the origination of her Black-eyed White lines.

Another gene linked with white spotting and causing colour fading has been identified for the rat since the Pastels, the Essex (or Robert gene). This, however, is a dominant gene, and the fading effect is quite different from the recessive Pastel colours. A Cinnamon or Mink Essex is not the same shade as a Pastel at all, and creates a colour lacking their warmth with a gradation of shading down the sides.

Since my return to the Rat fancy in 1999 I’ve been delighted to see a couple of Pastel rats, proving that the gene is still in existence! The first was at Glastonbury Pet Rat Show in 2000, where two rats were entered for the Pet class. Both were Capped with too much colour on the head and shoulders, and both were clearly (to me!) Pastels. When I enquired as to their origin, I was informed they were rescued rats taken when a rodent farm in Langport, Somerset closed down. The second Pastel I’ve seen was also a pet, belonging to Ema Pengelly from Southend in Essex. Reggie as he was named, was a Pastel buck, marked like the two above.

I'd like to point out that the "Lilacs" mentioned in this article are not genetically related to the variety known as Lilac in the USA - which is a form of lightened Mink but not linked to any white spotting pattern - or the variety standardised as Lilac in the UK, which is a combination of standard Blue, Chocolate and possibly also one gene for Red eye dilution.