This article is from the Mar./Apr. 1996 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Nichole Royer
Blue rats are one of our newer (and most popular) mutations and have a rather unusual history. Most new colors pop up in one location, and gradually spread to others either through fanciers exchanging animals, or via the commercial pet industry. Blues are unusual in that their appearance was sudden, with examples being found in pet shops all throughout the U.S. and in the U.K. at about the same time.
KK Little Blue Riding Hood, Best Blue, May 19, 1991.
The first Blue to be discovered in Southern California by an AFRMA member was a little female Hooded. She was found in a pet shop in mid 1990 by Sheryl Leisure who paid $6.99 for her, and another $6.99 for a Silver Tailless female out of the same bunch. Though she tried, Sheryl was unable to purchase the male Blue. The female Blue, named Tinker, was eventually bred to one of Karen Robbins’ Silver Lilac males, and the resulting offspring, along with several other Blues who cropped up in pet shops, formed the foundation stock of Blues in Southern California. The first Blue to make an appearance at an AFRMA show was shown on May 19,1991. (The complete story of Tinker’s discovery, and her subsequent litter, can be found in AFRMA Rat and Mouse Tales, Sept./0ct.1990 and March/April 1991. Sheryl is also the person who “discovered” the original Merle female who is the foundation of all the Merles we are working with now. What’s her secret for finding all these weird rats?)
Blue is a self color which has many characteristics in common with Lilac/Mink. Like Lilac/Mink, Blue comes in many shades which range from extremely light to very dark. AFRMA chose to recognize the darkest phase as “Blue” and its standard reads: "Color is a slate blue, as dark as possible, showing no brown patches or silvering. Eye color is dark ruby or black.” This shade has a dark slate gray appearance, and a good example has darkly pigmented ears, tail, and toes.
Blue acts as a simple recessive. Blue x Blue breedings will produce Blue. Offspring of Blue x Black breedings will be Black (unless the Black parent is carrying Blue). Offspring of Blue x Agouti breedings will be Agouti (once again unless the Agouti is carrying Blue), and if bred together, these offspring will produce Blue Agouti.
When breeding Blues, as when breeding any other Self rat, you must select against silvering, patchiness, and poorly pigmented feet. Outcrossing to Silver Lilac/Mink is not recommended, as it is likely to cause excess silvering. The best cross is with a really good Black who excels in color, particularly on the feet. Breeding to a good dark Agouti will also produce nice results, and will lead to producing Blue Agouti. Because there can be so much variation in color, some litters of Blues may contain everything from Powder to Slate shades. Blue seems to respond well to simple selection, and breeding darkest to darkest often produces babies who are darker than their parents. It is very difficult to tell what the adult color of a Blue will be when it is still in its baby coat. Sometimes they darken considerably after their first moult, some-times they don’t, so this is a color to wait until after 8 weeks to make your pick if at all possible. One other thing to be aware of when breeding Blues is their predisposition to skin problems. Some seem to be particularly sensitive to even small amounts of fat/protein in their diet, and they end up with really bad scabs. No Blue that has problems with scabs should be used in a breeding program as it will pass this problem on to its offspring.
There has been some interest in the medium and light shades of blue, and a number have been shown in the unstandardized class. The lightest phase is called Powder Blue and the preliminary standard describes it as: “Color to be a very light powder blue color with no suggestion of rustiness or grayness. Eye color to be dark ruby or black.” The medium shade, which is the most common and often seen in pet shops, is called Sky Blue. It is described in the proposed standards as: “Color to be in-between Blue and Powder Blue—a clear sparkling blue color showing no brown patches or silvering. Eye color to be dark ruby or black."
Tinker, the first Southern California Blue, owned by Sheryl Leisure.
Blue has also been combined with other colors with some very interesting results. In Blue Agouti, all of the black you would find in a regular Agouti is turned blue, giving a blue undercoat, brown band, then blue ticking. Chocolate Blues are called Platinum, a very pretty color which is gray with no blue in it, the darkest examples of which come close to being the same color as a Weimeriner dog. Pink-eyed Blue (Champagne Blue) is a cool off-white with a blue cast, a color called Silver. Blue Point Siamese have recently been standardized, and are quite light, resembling Lilac Point Siamese cats. The most recent variation to pop up is Silver Blue which may be a combination of Russian Blue and Blue, but we aren’t sure yet.
Blues are extremely popular and competition on the show bench can be quite stiff. Good conformation is a must in order for an animal to do well. The most common fault is the color being too light (animals that should be shown as Sky Blue rather than Blue). Other faults to look out for are too much silvering, white feet, and brown patches. Silvering should be selected against when breeding, as should white feet. Some males develop silvering as they age, and this cannot be helped. Patchy brown spots often show up on animals when they are molting, and then usually disappear; however, some animals develop a permanent brown cast as they age. These animals are best retired from the show bench.
Blues do not require much preparation for a show. They can be bathed a week before a show if they are dirty, but allow enough time for the hair to regain its natural oils and shine. Staining on the tail can be a problem, and the tail should be cleaned with a soft toothbrush and some good shampoo (Tip: Bluing shampoo for white cats does an excellent job cleaning the tail and heightens the color as well). Other than that, a wipe with a soft cloth to remove dust, and the Blue is ready to be shown.
Many novices start out showing with a Blue. There are lots of Blues around and it’s not hard to acquire a reasonably good one from a breeder who specializes in them (I do not know of any really good showable Blues that have come out of pet shops). Just keep in mind the fact that many people are into this color and the competition on the show bench is very tough. It takes a truly excellent specimen to do any real winning, and often those new to the fancy are disappointed when their Blues do not win.
Blue rats are beautiful and very popular in the “real world” as well as in the fancy. Pet shops have discovered that people will pay large (sometimes ridiculous) sums of money for Blue rats. Unfortunately, this has led to cases where Blues are being indiscriminately mass produced by people who look at them as a money-making venture and do not consider health or temperament when breeding. Our original stock of Blues had no particular temperament problems, and were well-adjusted, healthy animals. In the last year however, I have heard an increasing number of accounts of Blue rats with major health problems from people who bought them in pet shops. I have also heard several accounts of animals so aggressive they had to be put down. If you are buying a Blue from a pet 5 months, rather than leaving them until they are older.