|by Linda Price|
|As some of you know, there have been many reports in Europe that the Opal gene is not a true mutation which occurred in pure Campbells dwarf hamsters. There is a fear that the Opals are instead hybridized Sapphire Winter Whites. Having first received Opals about 10 years ago, I know them to be pure Campbells. Nevertheless, to avoid further speculation and to stop the rumors, I have traced our American animals back to the origin of the mutation and received confirmation that the Opal gene mutation did indeed appear in a colony of pure Campbells.
The origin of the Opal mutation is in the lab animals of Dr. Katherine E. Wynne-Edwards, a Professor of Biology at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada. Some of you may be familiar with her work as a hamster behavioralist. She is one of the few Western researchers who has been allowed to study the dwarf hamsters in their native habitat. She has also been allowed to bring wild caught hamsters back to the university for further study. The Opal mutation occurred in these wild caught Campbells hamsters.
She has kindly taken the time to research the events of more than 10 years ago. I started with the information reported by Chris Henwood in 1993 and 1994 in the BHA journals. He stated that the Opal mutation occurred in lab animals and was given to a hamster fancier on the East Coast of the United States by the name of Jim Wildschut. I contacted Jim Wildschut who explained what details he remembered. He was a large dwarf breeder at the time and still maintains a colony of dwarf hamsters. His information confirmed that our animals came from a shipment he made to Southern California.
Using his information, I contacted Dr. Wynne-Edwards to trace the mutation backwards and get confirmation that the mutation occurred in her lab. She confirmed that her lab is the “spontaneous origin” of the Opal mutation, and this information is documented in her lab notes.
According to Dr. Wynne-Edwards’ lab notes, on March 28, 1992, she gave Jim Wildschut one male Opal and one female Opal from a litter born on March 7, 1992. She stated that the animals “were of pure P. campbelli stock, derived from animals that I captured in the wild.” She stated that the animals were “of interest to Jim, but not relevant to us.” She further stated that they were “the offspring of two generations of full-sibling matings that were deliberately established to see if the coat colour would remain.”
As Jim Wildschut stated and Dr. Wynne-Edwards confirmed, her lab is not interested in color mutations. We were lucky, though, that she allowed this mutation to leave the lab and enter the pet market. Many color mutations never leave the lab in which they are discovered. The Opal color and its many color combinations have been a constant in the U.S. Campbells animals for over a decade now. With the scarcity of Winter Whites in general and the virtual non-existence of Sapphire Winter Whites on this continent, the Campbells are overwhelmingly the most commonly owned dwarf hamster in North America.
We are lucky that Dr. Wynne-Edwards keeps such detailed records, and we are lucky to know so much about the gene mutation. There are few hamster genes about which we have so much information.
Does this mean that all of the “Opal” animals in Europe are pure Campbells? Obviously this does not prove that. Melissa Chamberlain’s article in the February NHC journal indicates a prevalence of hybrids in Europe. Europeans may have hybridized the Sapphires and created animals which they are calling “Opals.” If indeed they are hybridized Sapphires, though, they should be renamed to reflect their origin. They should not be called Opals, and they should never be used as a justification to claim that the Opal mutation is not a true mutation which occurred spontaneously in pure Campbells dwarf hamsters.
In America there are still many pure Opals, and we have never seen health problems associated with this mutation. Even when I started raising the Opals a decade ago, we detected no health problems. The animals were of good size and of good health and bred as readily as the Normals of that time.
To see how the Opal gene affects the coat color on Campbells, you can see a picture gallery on the AAA Hamsters site..