The A or Agouti Gene in Rabbits

What Makes These Rabbits Different?



The photo gallery above shows three Jersey Woolies. Each is much different in appearance. In fact all 3 are genetically nearly the same. However, there is only one gene that is different in these three rabbits. Care to guess what that gene might be? If you said the “A” or agouti gene you would be correct.

The “A” gene or “Agouti” gene as its often called, determines the color pattern on a rabbit. There are three variations or alleles possible in the “A” gene:

  • A – Agouti Pattern
  • at – Tan Pattern
  • a – self

The “A” – Agouti Allele

The “A” allele is the dominant of the three possible alleles. It creates the agouti pattern. The simple way to see the agouti pattern is to blow into the fur of the rabbit and you will see rings of color. This is caused by the changes the gene causes to individual hair strands. Each hair has mutiple colors on the hair strand. Each hair strand on the animal will have the same pattern with the exception of the belly area.

The “at” -Tan Pattern Allele

The “at” or tan pattern is recessive to the “A” or agouti gene but is dominant over the “a” or self gene. The tan pattern gene creates a very unique appearance to the rabbit. Tan patterns can be either otters or silver martens. The otter color is appropriately named for otters. For a black otter, the body will be black. The belly will be a light tan color near the outer edges and whiter near the middle of the belly area. Tan pattered rabbits also have eye circles, a triangle of color on the back of the neck, and the light color along the jaw line. Otters have a more tan look in those areas, while a silver marten will be white in those same area.

Otters and silver martens are differentiated by the “chd” allele in the “C” gene. Otters have full color or the “C” allele. The silver martens have the “chd” allele which removes yellows from the fur. The result is a silver coloring where the otters are a tan color.

The “a” – Self Allele

The “a” or self allele is recessive to all the other A gene alleles. In order for the animal to show the self pattern, the A gene has to be homozygous or “aa”. Self rabbits will be the same color throughout the body and head such as can be seen on the black rabbit pictured above. These animals will still have lighter fur around the pads of the feet.

Breeding with the “A” Gene

Its amazing how much of a difference just one gene can make in the appearance of your rabbit. Care must be taken when breeding Agouti and Tan pattern rabbits as you could have rabbits that are not showable. Agoutis should not be bred to the following depending on breed:

  • Tans
  • Shadeds
  • Pointeds


Tans should not be bred to the following, again depending on breed:

  • Agoutis
  • Some Shadeds
  • Pointeds

The great thing about self patterned rabbits is their flexibility in breeding. They generally can be bred to anything. The exception is REWS (red eyed whites), and BEWS (blue eyed whites) which are classified as selfs in some breeds, but genetically are not always selfs.

Rob Usakowski
Three Little Ladies Rabbitry

© 2011, Three Little Ladies Rabbitry Blog. All rights reserved.

Rob Usakowski
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