|Photo by francisluong|
Bengals come in many different colors. The three basic breed accepted colors are brown, snow, and silver. Fortunately, the Bengal's color genetics are not too complex, and a breeder who knows with certainty their cats' colors, both dominant and recessive, can predict the possible outcome of an upcoming litter. UC Davis has a simple process for genetic color testing, and if a breeder has any doubt regarding color, or wants to be aware of recessive genes, it is best to have a color test done.
While there are no official subcategories of the brown Bengal, the brown coat has the widest variety of shades. Think of the color brown on a spectrum with grey at the coolest end and orange at the hottest end. A Bengal's coat can fall anywhere within that spectrum, and as long as it has a black tail tip*, it is considered a brown. Even though we don't officially break down the Browns, Bengal breeders have many terms we use to discuss the different colors of brown.
At the coolest end of the color, the spectrum is the color charcoal. Charcoals have essentially a grey coat with jet black markings. This distinct contrast makes the charcoals attractive cats. Ultimately, Bengal breeders would like all of their cats to have black on their face like the charcoal cats. However, we haven't been able to get the black of a charcoal to directly transfer onto a brown at the warmer end of the brown color spectrum.
After charcoals, we have cool browns - cats that aren't exactly charcoal but are still very cool in coloring. I've worked a lot with these shades of cats because I often find their structure to be wilder than the hotter colored cats. While certainly, the skeletal genes and the color genes are not attached, it is interesting to observe how some traits frequently show up together.
Adding more and more warmth to the coat, we will get cats with tawny or yellowish tones. I really like this coloring on cats. It seems as if this color grouping could be influenced by the snow gene as many, but not all, of the cats with this middle brown shade - not too hot, not too cold - carry for the snow gene.
What I deem to be the ideal brown is a step above tawny, but definitely not highly refused orange. This is the color of many ALCs. I love this color because it provides depth on the finished cat. The struggle is obtaining it with black and white on the coat as well. In my perfect world, that would happen overnight, but it doesn't.
The brown spectrum ends with highly refused, almost orange cats. These hot colored cats are ideal for many people. The struggle for the breeders is to keep the contrast on the hot cats. Often their pattern becomes less defined with age as the colors blend together. As a personal observation, I have found many of the highly refused cats to be more domestic in their skeletal structure than their cooler litter mates.
One would think you could take an orange cat, breed it to a charcoal, and end up with the perfect cat - a warm base coat with black spotting. Let me tell you, this has been done time and time again, and the result is not instant. Breeding takes time and patients. Starting at one end of the spectrum and gradually trying to bring together black, white, and a warm brown base coat is a painfully slow process.
* Read the Dilute section for an explanation as to why the Browns must have a black tail tip.
The snow colors were introduced through domestic cats Siamese and Burmese; however, they were accepted as a registered color, so that breeders could produce a duplicate of the snow leopard. While many breeders can guess a snow color, the most accurate way to determine the color is through genetic color testing.
The Seal Lynx color comes from an outcross to Siamese. Lynx kittens are usually born completely white and their pattern emerges with age. While the Lynx can often be thought of as the snow with the least amount of contrast, this is not always the case. The Seal Lynx is the only Bengal with blue eyes. The color on the points of the Bengal (like the Siamese pattern) is considered undesirable in the Bengal Standard.
The Seal Mink coloring occurs when the kitten has one Seal Lynx gene and one Seal Sepia gene. Think of the mink as the pink petunia - with one red gene and one white gene. Minks are born with a visible pattern. While their eyes are usually an aqua green, they can be gold. Eye color should not be used to determine coat color. Since a Mink must have both the Lynx and the Sepia gene, a brown cat cannot carry for the Mink gene. If you are told that a brown carries for Mink, you are dealing with a person who does not have a clear understanding of snow genetics.
The Seal Sepia color comes from an outcross to Burmese. Seal Sepia kittens are born with a visible pattern, and their eyes can range from green to gold. While they were originally thought to have the best contrast, all of the snows, if bred well, can result in good contrast. I prefer Seal Sepias over Mink and Lynx; however, my preference isn't due to the color itself. The Burmese have a smaller, rounder ear which is more desirable in the Bengal standard; whereas, the Siamese, which gave us the Lynx, has a larger, triangular ear. Those structural influences still exist in the breed even though we haven't outcrossed to these cats for years.
The most recently accepted color in the Bengal Breed is Silver. Silver was introduced to the breed by outcrossing to the American Short Hair. Much controversy surrounded the inclusion of silver as an acceptable color as it does not occur in any wild cat species. However, the popularity among breeders and pet buyers ultimately resulted in the inclusion of the silver color. The Silver Bengal has a silver to almost white base coat with black markings. Silvers can have what breeders refer to as tarnish - brown tips on their silver coat. Tarnish is not desirable in the color.
Bengals do come in a few more colors; however, they do not meet the breed standard. There is certainly nothing wrong with these cats; however, they cannot be shown as a standard Bengal.
Melanism occurs naturally in the wild - the South American Panther is simply a melanistic form of the Jaguar; therefore, it occurs in the Bengal breed as well. It is recessive, so both parents must carry the gene to get a melanistic kitten. The kittens are still patterned - hold them up to the light and you can see black on black spots. If bred, all offspring of a Melanistic cat will carry for melanism, but they will only produce melanistic cats when bred to another cat that either is melanistic or carries for melanism.
Each color gene has a dilute form. One can tell a dilute Bengal as it will have an absence of black. All standard colored Bengals, Browns, Snows, and Silvers should have a black tail tip. If the tail tip is not black, the kitten is a dilute color. Dilute is a recessive gene; therefore, both parents must carry it in order to get a dilute kitten. If bred, all offspring of a dilute cat will carry for the dilute color, but they will only produce dilute cats when bred to another cat that either is dilute or carries for a dilute.
The dilute colors
Blue is dilute of black - the most commonly occurring dilute in Bengals.
Cinnamon and Chocolate are dilute of brown. While I have seen Cinnamon Bengals, I have not seen or heard of Chocolate Bengals.
Lilac and Fawn are also dilutions of color genes; however, they are much more involved than a simple recessive. I have not heard of Bengals appearing with these dilutions.