Degu Colour Varieties

Until recently, there was very little information on coat colour variations in degus. Now these varieties are becoming more common, on this page you will find information and pictures about the different types being bred.

Before we get started, it should be pointed out that breeding degus for their coat colour is not always a good idea, and should always come second to breeding degus for their health. Many colour variations are caused by a recessive gene, meaning the degus have a history of being directly inbred to produce the colour strain. This means that the health of these coloured degus often suffers, and many have a greatly reduced lifespan as compared to agouti varieties. You might want to read a short article titled 'The Eye of the Beholder: Natural beauty Vs. the ignorant breeder' to find out more. Several breeders in Europe are working hard to try and correct these problems in coloured degus, which we support 100%!

>A Bit of History<

Agouti hair structure
Structure of an agouti hair
Coat colour in degus is usually agouti, meaning the hairs are striped brown and grey at the tip with grey underfur. This colour has evolved in degus to act as natural camouflage in their wild habitat. Two of the first colour variations bred were 'black' (very dark brown) and 'blue' (light grey). This is likely to have arisen due to a mutation in the colour gene turning off either the brown or grey portion of their coat colour. These colours originated in Germany and the Netherlands, and are spreading across Europe (in particular Sweden and Finland) due to their novelty.

Before you read on, you might like to know a little bit about colour genetics. Coat colour is expressed in one of two forms; homozygous or heterozygous. The term 'homozygous' means that degu has two copies of the same allele (one half of the neucleotide coding that makes up the whole gene) to make up the colour gene. On the other hand, a 'heterozygous' degu has one allele corresponding to one colour and one corresponding to a different colour. The allele that gets expressed in the phenotype (outward appearance) is the one that is dominant over the other (the other is termed 'recessive'). A good example of this is human hair colour- if a person with homozygous brown hair produces a child with a person with homozygous blonde hair, the child will be born with brown hair no matter if they're homozygous or heterozygous for the brown colour, since brown hair is dominant over blonde hair. Easy!

The Genetics of the Agouti Colour Degu

>"BLUE" DEGUS<

Blue hair structure
Structure of a blue hair
Notice how the 'brown' band that is present in the agouti hair is turned off in the blue hair, producing a coat that is entirely grey (sometimes with a darker grey tip).
Blue Degus (Karin van Veen)   Blue Degus (Karin van Veen)

The above pictures show adult blue degus, the name of the colour reflecting their unusual blue-grey coats. You can see in the right hand picture the contrast with the agouti coat degu (pictured bottom right with cataracts). This coat type is known to be genetically recessive, meaning you need to breed two blue degus together to get a complete litter of blue pups. Breeding a blue degu with a homozygous agouti degu will result in only agouti pups, some of which will carry the gene for the blue colour (termed 'heterozygous'). Breeding two agouti heterozygous carriers together will result in roughly one quarter of the litter being born blue, one quarter born homozygous agouti and one half born heterozygous agouti. You can see why the initial breeders had problems producing healthy blue degus without resorting to inbreeding to produce more agouti pups. Below are shown some blue degu pups only a few days old.

Blue Degu Pups (Julia Riedel)     Blue Degu Pups (Julia Riedel)
Adult blue degu pictures © copyright Karin van Veen (Netherlands); blue degu pup pictures © copyright Julia Riedel (Germany)- it is unlawful to take these pictures without permission of the copyright holder.

The Genetics of the Blue Colour Degu

>"CHAMPAGNE AGOUTI" DEGUS<

Champagne agouti hair structure
Structure of a champagne agouti hair
In this colour variety, the agouti banding is still present, but rather than having a grey undercoat, the base of the hair is a pale cream colour. Compare the difference in colour between the agouti hairs (left) and the champagne agouti hairs (right) in the image below:
Champagne agouti hairs compared to agouti hairs
...And how the underfur compares between an agouti degu and a champagne agouti below:
Compare agouti undercoat with champagne agouti
This difference is caused by the gene that causes the cream-coloured belly fur expressing itself in all the body hairs, rather than only on the belly. This mutation is relatively new and champagne agouti degus are often mistaken for being 'blue'. We don't as yet know anything about the genetics of this colour variant.

Champagne Agouti Degu
Champagne Agouti Degu
Champagne Agouti Degu
Adult champagne agouti degu pictures © copyright Chloe Long (UK) 2011- it is unlawful to take these pictures without permission of the copyright holder.

>"BLACK" DEGUS<

Black Degu (Karin van Veen)

Black degus are actually a very dark shade of brown, and are very uncommon. Very little is known about the genetics of this colour variety and the degu in the above picture may well be a unique example. Nevertheless, this is one of the first examples of a colour mutation in the degu's coat.

Adult black degu picture © copyright Karin van Veen (Netherlands)- it is unlawful to take these pictures without permission of the copyright holder.

>"SAND" DEGUS<

Sand Degu (Sabine Gehrsitz & Nina Sogn)

Sand Degu (Sabine Derksen)Sand Degu (Sabine Derksen)

Sand Degu (Sabine Derksen)

Another unusual colour variety, the sand degu, has an almost ginger coat. The top picture shows the initial strain, which was reportedly bred in the USA and imported into Germany. This first variation was reported to have very un-degu like characteristics (the degu pictured is a particularly large example) and were not commonly bred due to their numerous health defects as reported by Degus-Online.de . This particular strain is thought to have died out because of this. However, it has recently been reported by Sabine Derksen and Melanie Nickel (TraumDegus.de) that a new, much healthier strain of the sand colour is currently being developed in Germany (see the three lower pictures). The colour is reportedly a recessive trait, and the degus produced do not have markedly different health or longevity to other degus.

Sand Degu Genetics

Adult sand degu picture (top) © copyright Sabine Gehrsitz (Germany, Degus-Online) & Nina Sogn (Germany); Adult sand degu pictures (middle and lower) © Sabine Derksen and Melanie Nickel (Germany, TraumDegus)- it is unlawful to take these pictures without permission of the copyright holder.

>"WHITE PATCHED AGOUTI" DEGUS<

Adult White Patched Agouti Degus (Barbara Walter)   Adult White Patched Agouti Degus (Barbara Walter)

Adult White Patched Agouti Degu (Barbara Walter)

The patched degu is becoming a popular colour variety, particularly in Germany and Finland. These degus are usually agouti with areas of unpigmented skin, producing patches of white fur all over the body. The white patches are reported to be a dominant trait, we have been advised by a breeder that if you breed a patched degu with a homozygous agouti degu then half the pups born are patched (Mayer, 2008- personal communication). This may mean that the patched degu is actually heterozygous for the trait. Below are some pictures of patched degu pups, only a few weeks old. One picture clearly shows the difference between the patched degu and their agouti littermates.

White Patched Agouti Degu Pup (Hannelore Mayer)

White Patched Agouti Degu Pup (Hannelore Mayer)

White Patched Agouti Degu Pup (Sofia Hogburg)     White Patched Agouti Degu Pups (Sofia Hogburg)

White Patched Agouti Degu Pups (Sofia Hogburg)     White Patched Agouti Degu Pup (Sofia Hogburg)

White Patched Agouti Degu Pup (Sofia Hogburg)
Adult patched degu pictures © copyright Barbara Walter (Unknown); Patched degu pup pictures © copyright Hanni Mayer (Germany) and Sofia Hogberg (Sweden) 2008- it is unlawful to take these pictures without permission of the copyright holder.

The Genetics of the White Patched Agouti Colour Degu

>OTHER "PATCHED" DEGUS<

It is not only degus born with white patches that can end up with unusual white markings. There is also a rare genetic mutation that causes white patches to develop on degus as they age, even if they have been born with agouti fur and remained patch-free for several years. These patches often occur on the degu's back and are not related to old injury sites. The degu below, Eddy, developed this white patch when he was 4 years old:
Eddy (Green Mt. Gerbils)
Eddy (Green Mt. Gerbils)

And Fancyfree (below) developed his white patch when he was a couple of years old:
Fancyfree (Melissa Tiley-Waters)
Fancyfree (Degutopia)
Eddy's age-patched degu pictures © copyright Keith (Green Mt. Gerbils, US); Fancyfree's age-patched degu pictures © copyright Melissa Tiley-Waters (UK) 2008 & Chloe Long (UK) 2009- it is unlawful to take these pictures without permission of the copyright holder.

>"WHITE" DEGUS<

White Degu (Hannelore Mayer)

White Degus (Hannelore Mayer)

The degree to which these degus are truly white needs clarifying. Truly white or albino degus have yet to be bred, the reason why this common mutation has not yet arisen is unknown. Albino animals are born without pigment of any sort, and so have pink skin and also pink eyes. It may be that, as in the horse, the genes which cause albinism to be expressed are lethal. Two types appear to exist; those in which the pigment exists in the coat but is prevented from entering the hair follicle, and those in which the degu is born agouti but the coat turns white at a later stage (this is a very rare genetic condition). Mayer (2008) reports that white degu varieties are born with pink skin that becomes grey as they develop (but the hair remains white all the way down). Pigmentation may also be found in some of the nails. This type of white coat is likely to be an extension of the patched variety, as in some cases a few agouti hairs are still present as shown in the pictures above. Below are two white pups, only a few days old.

White Degu Pups (Hannelore Mayer)
Patched degu pup and adult pictures © copyright Hanni Mayer (Germany) 2008- it is unlawful to take these pictures without permission of the copyright holder.