Sepia Gray Syrians
by Lorraine Hill
Q:  I am trying to determine which grey my current hamster is.  The father is an umbrous golden while the mother is a heterozygous silver grey.  I’ve seen some pictures of a sepia grey, and I think that might be what I have.

A: There is no such colour as "sepia".

Although the name Sepia was used in the past it was usually used as a name for Light Greys which had browned and as such are just bad Light Greys and so their genetics are the same as Light Grey.

If you use a dark golden in light grey lines, the Light Greys produced tend to brown at a very early age (e.g. as early as 5 weeks of age) whereas if you use a light golden in Light Grey lines, the Light Greys produced hold their greyness for most, if not all of their life.

The term "Sepia" has also been used in the past to describe extremely poor Goldens!

More recently when the Silver Greys first emerged, the heterozygous Silver Grey was also called Sepia or Sepia Silver Grey - just to confuse things even further!

If the father is Umbrous Golden and Mother homozygous Silver Grey then the Silver Grey is heterozygous Silver Grey Sgsg (i.e. what has been called Sepia Silver Grey in the past).

Silver Greys do not have a brown tinge and have no cream pigment.

However you can have Silver Light Greys and these tend to look neither Light Grey or Silver Grey but something in between - ie SgsgLglg has the thick black cheekflashes of the Silver Grey, but shows some cream pigmentation in the cheekflashes and on the nose of the Light Grey.

Q: But the NHC recognise Sepia grey and a few breeders have bred Sepia Grey to the standard expected.

A: Yes some breeders still refer to Sgsg as being "Sepia Grey" or "Sepia Silver Grey" instead of "heterozygous Silver Grey" because it is simpler and easier to write/say and became a habit.

"Sepia" was originally used as a name for Light Greys that had browned when these hamsters turned up in litters of Light Grey, long before the Silver Grey gene emerged in 1985/86.

By the time the Silver Grey gene emerged the name Sepia was seldom used as it had been established by then, that what used to be called Sepia was nothing more than badly coloured Light Greys that had browned. Incidentally the most common cause of these Light Greys which browned was having Dark Golden in Light Grey lines.

When the Silver Grey gene emerged there were two shades of grey and they were originally referred to as Sepia Silver Grey and Silver Grey. Later it was confirmed these two shades were in fact heterozygous Silver Grey and homozygous Silver Grey respectively.

However many breeders had become used to referring to them as Sepia Silver Grey and Silver Grey and so was quite a hard habit to break from calling them that.

Most breeders started to use the correct names (heterozygous and homozygous) for the two shades of Silver Grey and do so today, although there are still undoubtedly some that refer to them as Sepia Silver Grey and Silver Grey still.

The clubs and breeders obviously recognise heterozygous Silver Grey, just as they do homozygous Silver Grey as far as they both exist. However the show standard for Silver Grey is written for the homozygous Silver Grey, not heterozygous (Sepia Silver Grey) as the homozygous what is considered the ideal Silver Grey.

The NHC state "Many Silver Grey litters contain an ‘offshoot’ of Silver Grey often called Silver Grey Sepia. This colour has a brownish tinge to the coat, rather than the clear Silver Grey called for by the standard. It is probable that Silver Sepias are the animals most likely to be carrying other colours, for example, Golden."

This sounds like it was written some time ago as it is referring to the heterozygous Silver Greys Sgsg – i.e. Silver Greys carrying Golden and is exactly what I said above about heterozygous Silver Greys originally being referred to as Sepia Silver Greys (or Silver Grey Sepia).

It also states these Sepia Silver Greys aren't the clear Silver Grey colour called for by the standard so I can't see a "few breeders have bred Sepia Grey to the standard expected" as the Sepia (heterozygous) Silver Greys don't fit the standard. I think what they probably mean is that have bred homozygous Silver Greys (which are to standard) from two heteroygous Silver Greys (Silver Grey Sepias) which of course would be true as breeding two heterozygous Silver Greys together would be expected to produce 25% homozygous Silver Greys.

Added to all this confusion over the name Sepia, there have been hamsters appear which are both Silver Grey and Light Grey eg LglgSgsg and these show characteristics of both the heteroygous Silver Grey (thick black cheekflashes) and characteristics of the Light Grey (cream crescents). Where these animals also carry dark golden the can brown at quite a young age becuase of the prescence of the Light Grey gene and so suffer effectively the same problem as the bad Light Greys that have Dark Golden in their genes.

These can also be referred to as Silver Grey Sepia although they would be more correctly be called heterozygous Silver Light Grey or even just Silver Grey Light Grey, Light Silver Grey or Silver Light Grey rather than Sepia as it would indicate more accurately what they are!

The name Sepia has been used in the past as a name for very pale goldens, bad browning light greys, heterozygous silver greys and undoubtedly for LglgSgsg hamsters and so to use the name Sepia today for anything is highly confusing as it could be referring to at least 4 totally different colours!!!

Therefore if anyone refers to a hamster as "Sepia" I'd ask them to clarify what the genetic makeup of the hamster is to be clear on what it was they were talking about as it could be any of the above!

Q: I have a question. You used the term golden as if it were a gene unto itself. I always thought goldens were agouti and could carry colors, but otherwise were 'colorless'. And an animal who does not carry any known color genes is signified as ++.

The fact that it appears dark goldens and light goldens are affecting the grays differently does make it sound as if there are genetic factors that should be considered or named. Is there evidence that the light and dark goldens have a shared loci that has been affected to make them vary in color? Has the gene been named? Or are the light goldens carrying many recessives or simply not a good line for the color standards?

A: You you are entirely correct in that Golden is ++ and Light Greys had one non-Light Grey gene, and heterozygous Silver Greys have one non-Silver Grey gene.

I only referred to "carrying Golden" as this is how the NHC had referred to the Heterozygous Silver Greys (and Light Greys) having one non-grey gene so was trying to illustrate what they were saying in the same terms that they used.

Golden is not colourless (I have visions of transparent hamsters!) - it is the natural agouti colouring which of course does show as a colour but is not due to any mutant gene.

Mutant genes are not "colours" but are an effect on the appearance. For example Cinnamon is not a colour - it is a pink eyed dilution gene, dark eared white is not a colour - it is a gene that does not allow the expression of colour in the coat, Rust is not a colour - it is a brown gene that dilutes colour and changes black to brown, Silver grey is not a colour - it is a gene which removes red/orange/brown/cream pigment, etc, etc.

Dark Golden, Light Golden, and Mid Golden are all shades of Golden that have been selectively bred for from very early on in the fancy and the clubs used to have standards for all 3 shades. Of course many goldens don't fit into the 3 shades but are actually in between 2 of the 3.

However, because all Goldens are ++ the BHA dropped the mid Golden standard when it was formed (and at the same time the view was that as dark Golden is the one that is favoured the light golden would be dropped later from the standards later). It was felt though that dropping 2 golden standards in one go when 3 had been used since early on in the fancy would not be readily accepted.

Most of the Goldens seen today in pet shops are actually mid-way between Light and Mid Golden whereas, in the UK at least, most show goldens are Dark Golden.

There was no doubt early evidence and breeding to confirm the 3 shades of golden (and all the shades in between) are on the same loci and certainly there hasn't been/is no evidence to suggest otherwise.

It isn't a case of the lighter shades are lighter because they carry other colours as it is possible to have different shades of Golden that carry no other colours.

In the USA the Goldens seem to range from mid-way between Light and Mid Golden, to just past Mid-Golden heading towards Dark Golden but with imported hamsters people are now getting hamsters much closer to the Dark Golden standard.

Only Light Grey is affected by the shade of Golden. This is the grey that has obvious cream pigment.

Many Light Greys have a tendency to go brown with age - usually on a good Light Grey though this browning doesn't happen until they are 2+ years of age, if at all.

Breeding Light Grey to Dark Golden though can produce Light Greys which brown earlier (ie as early as 5 weeks of age) or even produce Light Greys that are rather brown from the start. These Light Greys are absolutely useless for showing as they lose their good grey colouring before they are even old enough to start their showing life.

The amount of browning on any Light Grey can also vary - being slight browning to quite extreme browning and it is the extreme browning that is what caused these to be referred to as Sepia in the past when it was unclear at the time if they were in fact a different colour (and later concluded they were in fact they were just bad light greys).

Ideally for the show bench you don't want any browning and the best way to ensure this is to only used light-mid goldens in light grey lines.

The Light Grey isn't actually grey if you look at the hairs carefully - the root of the hair is dark brownish-grey, the rest of the hair is cream and the tips are dark brown.

Trying to explain the effects of the Silver Grey and Light Grey genes in a way that is easy to understand (bearing in mind what I said above about mutant genes not being colours but effects on the natural agouti colouring) ... the Silver Grey gene removes cream/red/orange/brown pigment to give Silver Grey (a hamster which is shades of white/ivory/grey/black only .. whereas the Light Grey dilutes red/orange/brown to cream, adds cream to ivory and turns black to dark brown. So on a light golden the effect of the Light Grey gene changes the orange/red/brown part of the hair to cream successfully, but on a dark golden where the red/orange/brown colour is redder/browner/more orange the effect of the Light Grey gene is less successful and turns it more to beige than cream.

It's like if you had a tin of brown paint, a tin of orange paint and a tin of white paint. If you added the tin of white paint to the tin of orange you'd get cream, but if you added the tin of white paint to the tin of brown paint you'd get something more beige in colour.

This is what is is like with the Light Grey gene - add it to brown paint (dark golden) you'd get something Beige in colour, add Light Grey to orange (mid-golden) you'd get something cream in colour.

The Light Grey gene only changes the mid section of the hair on a dark golden which is red/brown to beige making the hamster look a brownish grey, whereas on a light golden the Light Grey gene changes the orange/brown section of the hair to cream producing a hamster that looks grey in overall colour.

Lorraine Hill
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