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Russet Burmese

Introduction (by Anthony Nichols)

The breeding programme for the Russet Burmese is an experimental programme in its early days, which is taking place in New Zealand. A certain breeding line of seal (brown) Burmese has started producing some very unusual kittens which are born with an unconventional colour for Burmese. The kittens gradually lighten as they grow bigger. Russet appears to result from a recessive gene which has arisen from a spontaneous mutation. The effect of the gene is to cause the black pigment (eumelanin) to gradually fade to a minimal amount while not reducing the red pigment (phaeomelanin). This might be an extension gene mutation and appears to have some similarities to amber in Norwegian Forest Cats. Further matings with Burmese and Asians/Mandalays are planned and will be monitored so that more can be learnt about these unusual cats.

Enigma with Dam
and Littermates
Enigma approx
12 weeks 
Enigma approx
5 - 6 months
Molly approx
12 months 
Molly approx
15 - 16 months 
click photos to view
click photos to view  click photos to view   

The Russet Burmese Story by Rod Hitchmough

Russet is the name that has currently (not necessarily permanently) been given to a new colour pattern which has popped up in a line of Burmese in New Zealand.

They were all bred by Nicki and Bob Mackenzie of Boloni and Lowenheim catteries in Upper Hutt. They are not the result of any deliberate breeding programme - they just happened. The first of these kittens, “Molly”, was born late in 2007. There was another similar kitten in the same litter, but she died in a very unfortunate accident after going to a pet home. Molly was born very pale, and the Mackenzies assumed she was lilac, but as she got older it was clear she was something else. Caramel was suggested by someone she hadn’t seen her on the basis of the “odd-coloured lilac” connection, but soon it was clear that wasn’t right either – she looked like a chocolate tabby. However, that was impossible from her pedigree. As she got older she changed colour quite dramatically to go more and more red, but red was also impossible from her parents, and reds don’t start out looking like chocolate tabbies. The Mackenzies were unable to register her, but showed her in the companion cat classes, where she did extremely well – she had excellent Burmese type and a very outgoing personality. Subsequently four more of the kittens have been born, to make a total of six in five different litters so far – three females and three males. They all went through a similar progression of coat colour/pattern changes. I had seen Molly at shows in 2008 and been intrigued by her, and the Mackenzies very kindly let me buy the fifth of these kittens, Boloni Enigma Variation. His dark markings from the start have been considerably darker than Molly’s, otherwise he is very similar. He is the first of them to have been left entire.

The parents and other ancestors named below are all seal Burmese. They have completely traditional pedigrees - no silver, tabby or Mandalay anywhere in the background. There is dilute and chocolate in the recent pedigree but the closest red, cream or tortie is one red four generations back.

The kittens all have the same father, Bz Dbl Gr Ch Lowenheim Nico Above the Law, and there are two mothers, Lowenheim Posh Spice and her daughter Ch Boloni Touch of Spice. Importantly, Posh Spice’s mother, Dbl Gr Ch Lowenheim Cassini Bernadette, is also Nico’s grandmother, so all three parents are quite closely related through her. Cassini Bernadette’s parents were Dbl Gr Ch Bajimbi Sable Boujalai (Imp. Aust.), and Dbl Gr Ch Namhakani Bernadette. Dbl Gr Ch Namakani Bernadette’s father was Dbl Gr Ch Nandawar Suki Sakima (Imp. Aust.) and her mother (Marabindi Gemma) goes back to earlier Australian and UK imports to New Zealand. The rest of the new colour kittens’ pedigrees go back entirely to various Australian imports within four generations. No other cats are repeated on both sides of the four-generation pedigree, although of course there will be lots of repeats further back, as in any comparison of extended pedigrees.

Molly’s parentage was been confirmed by DNA test arranged by the Mackenzies. Three of the four surviving russets alive in mid 2009 were also tested for all the colour genes for which tests are available (one kitten had died and the last one was born since then). The tests show Enigma (aa Bb cbcb DD) and Molly’s younger sister Caramel (aa Bb cbcb DD) to be indistinguishable from standard seal, and Molly (aa bb cbcb DD) to be indistinguishable from standard chocolate Burmese at these genes. The new colour is not a reversion to tabby, but something completely new. Further DNA testing is currently being done in California to try to isolate the gene involved.

As kittens russets look rather like tabbies. However, they have pink noses and pads, pale muzzles, pale fur around the pads and genitalia and a pale tail-tip - all these areas are dark in tabbies. Also, as younger kittens the back is more solidly dark then ticked, changing to pale ivory about halfway down the flanks, and the area around the eyes and the muzzle are also ivory. The back develops a more ticked appearance in older kittens, and the face also turns reddish at this stage. As they mature they turn much more red - the reddest of them (Enigma’s older brother) is getting quite similar to a red Burmese, and none of them is yet more than two years old. However, unlike red, this colour doesn't appear to be sex linked, but to be inherited as a recessive.

There are clear similarities to the new amber colour in Norwegian Forest Cats, particularly in the progression to reddish adult colouring. However, there are also significant differences. Ambers have dark nose leathers and pads – these are pink in russets. Non-agouti ambers are very dark as young kittens (somewhat similar to smokes rather than tabbies), and have a dark face which is the last part to go red – most non-agouti amber adults I’ve seen photos of still have a dark bridge to the nose. Russets are born with off-white faces (colour probably influenced by the Burmese gene), which are the first, not the last part of the cat to go red. They also have distinct tabby-like pale undersides as kittens, which ambers don’t. The change to red seems slower in russets then ambers, which change within the first few months. However, that could just be the result of different timing of major moults in cats born at different times of year.

All five of these kittens have been very large at birth – about 50 grams larger than their littermates. They have continued to be larger than their littermates as they grew, but ended up as large but not huge adults. They come from a line with excellent temperaments, but compared with their littermates they are extra outgoing, fearless and affectionate.

I intend to mate Enigma to a lilac queen to eventually see what the dilute version of russet looks like, and also to a tabby Mandalay queen to see what the tabby and self versions of full-intensity rather than Burmese colours look like. As the gene is almost certainly recessive, the first generation will all be standard colours and I’ll have to line-breed to get more russets in the next generation.

Enigma has been shown as any other colour Burmese - BUR Z, with no standard and no challenge status. Russet has been applied as an interim name to allow tracking of the new colour in pedigrees.

Nicki and Bob MacKenzie
Boloni Cattery

Litters that produced Russet Kittens.
We have been breeding Burmese since 1990 under the Lowenheim prefix and along with Lois Smith of Napier a joint prefix of Boloni


So far we have produced five Russet kittens from four litters in the last two years. They are as follows along with size of litters and other colours of siblings.

First Litter

We mated our mated our new seal boy Nico Above the Law with Posh Spice our oldest queen and on 03/09/2007 five kittens were born. Three Seals/Browns (two females one male) and two very pale kittens, both female (Russets: affectionately known by us as "Molly" Cats).. Our first thought without examining them too closely were that they looked like Chocolates or Lilacs.

These two kittens were about 50 gms heavier than the seal kittens. Within a week the two paler kittens began to develop what I would call a saddle on their backs. At this stage we wondered what they were. They were bigger than the other three kittens. Their colour was starting to develop and with tabbv type markings, along with colours we had never seen before. One was a reddish chocolate (Molly) with ticking in her coat and the other a reddish seal colour also with ticking. After four days these two girls opened their eyes and the other siblings a couple of days later. Needless to say they were first out of the basket and first to eat on their own.

The seal kittens sold first by twelve weeks and at fourteen weeks The reddish seal girl sold to a couple who had purchased a kitten from us twelve months earlier. We kept Molly and sent a photo of Molly to the then registrar, Avon Aspden. Avon thought Molly might be a lilac caramel and Molly and her sister were registered as that.

In April 2008 we took Molly to a kitten show in Palmerston North and the three judges all said she wasn’t a Lilac Caramel and refused to judge her but had no idea what colour she was.

This happened also at the Dominion Cat Show the following week, this time I asked the two Australian judges what colour she was. I was asked what her parents were and when told they were both seals, we were told it was impossible and could not happen- a conversation that was very disappointing. We than decided to show Molly as a companion cat to get more opinions from various judges and fellow breeders. This proved very disappointing and disheartening as only a few breeders were interested and the judges had no idea apart from one who suggested Molly could be a Chocolate Ticked Tabby. DNA testing has now been done and the coat colours do not match the DNA results.

Second Litter

Nico was mated with Touch of Spice (a seal daughter of Posh Spice and sired by Zeotrope Darcy) Kittens were born on 25/12/07, a litter of three. One seal female, one chocolate female and a male russet, identical to Molly. Size and weight were the same as the first litter.

Third Litter

Nico and Posh Spice were mated again and kittens born 13/11/08. Five in number, 2 seal females, 1 chocolate female, 1 russet female (who we called Caramel) and a seal male. Again size and weight were similar to first two litters.

Fourth Litter
Nico and Touch of Spice produced a litter on 30/1/09 of two seal females, one chocolate female and one russet male (Enigma) Same size and weight as previous litters... Enigma has grown into a very big young cat.

We mated Nico with Touch of Spice’s daughter Lilly Latique (a lilac Burmese) There were four seals and a chocolate from this litter. However, there were no russets. Logic tells me that the gene responsible is carried by Nico, Posh Spice and Touch of Spice. It appears not to have been inherited by Lilly Lalique. We kept a seal girl from the fourth litter( Miss Bona Vista) and will breed her to see if she carries the russet gene.

DNA results

At the end of June we had DNA tests done which verified that Nico was the father and Posh Spice and Touch of Spice the respective mothers of the Russets.

In spite of the appearance of the russets where some ticked tabby patterns seems to be visible, DNA testing shows that all of them are non-agouti (a/a) and all of them have Burmese colour restriction (cb/cb).

DNA testing shows that Molly is genetically a chocolate, with b/b genes, and the others B/b, seal carrying chocolate.

Posh Spice and Touch of Spice carry one copy of the dilute allele (D/d). The other four cats are homozygous for dense colour (D/D).

As we have said before the coat pattern does not match the DNA results, which seems to back up the theory that russet is something new.

*Updates* 03/10/2012

In late 2010 and early 2011 two litters of Mandalays were bred from Enigma and tabby Mandalay queens (unrelated to Enigma). A chocolate ticked male from one litter and an ebony (black) ticked female from the other were kept and mated together, with kittens born in 2012. As well as a solid ebony (black) and ebony ticked tabby, there were three ebony russet kittens (all males). This generation of russets proves the heritability and recessive inheritance of the pattern.

Dr Leslie Lyons of UC Davis was sent DNA samples from the russets and sequenced the extension gene, finding no mutation. Therefore the russet gene must be at another locus.

*Updates* 07/2012

The F2 russet Mandalay litter is now nearly 6 months old. I ran all three male russets on until about a month ago, when two of them went to a pet home together. They’re with friends of friends, so I hope to be able to keep in touch and follow the progress of their coat colour changes.

I had them all DNA tested for a panel of colour genes. Two were heterozygous agouti and one non-agouti. The difference in colour/pattern between the non-agouti kitten and the other two was minor and in fact no greater than that between the two agouti kittens which had identical colour genotypes.

One tabby russet kitten was quite dark, with little or no rufousing showing at 5 months – but when I look at photos of Enigma at 6 months he was also still very dark on the back and showing little red colour. In contrast the other tabby russet and the non-agouti russet were showing extensive rufousing of the coat by 5 months old. The tabby I have kept now has no solid black left in his coat at all – it’s all bronzed to a greater or lesser extent. The non-agouti kitten had a black spine line, but apart from that was mainly tan in colour by 5 months – he is homozygous ticked in underlying tabby pattern, whereas the two tabbies are both heterozygous ticked with extensive barring on the undersides and limbs and “trout spots” on the flanks. The only possible explanations I can think of for the difference are wide banding or caramel, with the two fast-rufousing kittens having wide-banding or dilute modifier genes and the dark one not having them. Wide banding and caramel do both segregate in my Mandalays as if they are simple Mendelian polymorphisms.

The other news is that the MacKenzies have bred two more seal russet Burmese (a male and a female) from their male russet Lowenheim Bernard and his seal Burmese paternal grandmother Ch Lowenheim Matilda Bernadette. I had expected her to be a carrier as she was the daughter of the common ancestor of the cats that had produced the pattern previously.

Xahir (nonagouti black russet Mandalay) – tested genotype aa Bbl CC DD EE NN (Birman gloving gene absent)


Xan (black ticked tabby russet Mandalay) – tested genotype Aa Bbl CC DD EE NN (Birman gloving gene absent)


Xanthus (black ticked tabby russet Mandalay) – tested genotype Aa Bbl CC DD EE NN (Birman gloving gene absent)