butterfly or Brokencoat

What’s the difference between butterfly & broken patterns? This article kindly donated by Christine Carter

The butterfly pattern is a manifestation of the En gene, which provides the characteristic spotting in English rabbits. The gene however has a modifier to fuse the spots into patches or large areas of solid colour on a white rabbit.

Most of our clubs use the BRC standards, with the butterfly pattern accepted on the show table, whereas brokens are unshowable/disqualifiable. A few clubs also include ARBA standards therefore allowing members to show brokens. As an example of the American criteria for a broken though, they should have at least 10% but no more than 50% amount of colour. To cater to the majority and for the purpose of keeping it simple however, this article will only be based on the BRC standards.

An ongoing problem in the rabbit world, which needs clarification, is incorrect labelling of the ‘butterfly’ and ‘broken’ patterns.

It is important to know the difference because:

It takes the guesswork out about what to name either pattern.

Breeders need to aim for the ideal butterfly; otherwise we could risk eliminating the unique gene modifiers from our already restricted gene pool.

Essential for recording accurate pedigree papers.

Colours and patterns should be judged accordingly, for example not to strictly penalize butterflies that have minor faults, nor practice an easygoing attitude about showing brokens – let alone through default, they receive awards. For the sake of consistency, there’s surely a need to set a limit to pattern deviations.

Hopefully, prevent disappointment rather than receive unshowable pet quality brokens when buying stock sight unseen (i.e from interstate breeders), especially after going to all the time, trouble and paying expensive transportation costs.

on the other hand, if anyone is offered a ‘broken’ potential buyers may automatically refuse, thinking, “No thanks, I want show quality,” assuming what’s being offered is considered ‘pet quality’ – not the best for breeding or showing purposes. The trouble is, if the seller is none the wiser, their rabbit may actually be a well-marked butterfly . . .

Butterfly pattern according to the BRC standards

The pattern to be as symmetrical as possible. Any deviation from the pattern is regarded as a pattern fault. However, it must be understood that for colour and pattern together there are just 10 points.

A white pattern on any other recognised colour except Seal Point, Blue Point and Iron Grey. One reason for exempting these is simply because of the difficultly to see the blanket colour on the rabbit’s body, especially for example on light seal points. Some judges/experts don’t recommend producing tan patterned butterflies (given they have tan triangles etc), however this is not mentioned in the standard.

The face is predominantly coloured. The white markings around the nose leave a distinct butterfly smut, which covers the nose and top lip. The descriptive term ‘butterfly’ originated from the smut pattern, see the outline of a butterfly (wings and body) in photo below. As far as I’m concerned, if a rabbit has a badly broken butterfly smut that literally means what you are seeing is a broken!

The white strip between the eyes can extend upwards between the crown. There is a white patch above each eye. These tend to be variable from one bunny to another.

Ears to match body colour. A small white patch on ears just below crown is allowed.

Body colour to extend from tip of tail to as near shoulders as possible and to extend down to flanks. No white to be present in general body colour except for the two white spots, one on top of each shoulder. Frankly, the word ‘spot’ could be misinterpreted (i.e. literally picturing tiny spots), whereas ‘white patches” would be a fairer, more accurate description.

Lower flanks, feet, chest and entire underside to be white with teat spots permissible.

Front legs white with elbow patches of colour allowed. These colour leg patches are actually common and naturally occur in the butterfly pattern – preferably seen on both legs as uniformly balanced in position, shape and size.

White toenails. Categorically applies to all coloured butterfly variations.

Eye colour to be that required for the body colour. For instance, self-colours having brown eyes, blue-grey eye colour for dilutes, while shaded would naturally also have their ruby red glow.

Accept any other colour or pattern, which conforms to the colour or pattern of recognised breeds, excluding broken pattern. See, I told you so!

Faults – too many white hairs in nose, top lip and body markings. This can be one of the tricky bits about what exactly is considered as ‘too many white hairs’, compared to what would/could be acceptable. Probably best to strive for no white hairs whatsoever!

Disqualifications – putty nose, white tips on ears. If you’re unsure about the ‘putty nose’ description, it just means a solid patch of white. It is a shame they only stipulate a disqualification regarding white tips on the ears – instead of saying white spots/patches anywhere on the ear. Except of course, as mentioned above that it’s okay to have white just below the crown.

Breeder’s tips

I’ve heard that if you breed a pair of butterfly patterned rabbits together you can produce ‘charlies’, which look like brokens but produce well-marked butterflies. The trouble with this suggestion is that you can’t tell if you actually have a broken or a charlie – though once you start breeding them you’ll know what you ended up with. Many years ago, I personally tried it out, but that particular theory never worked for me!

Generally, it is recommended to breed butterflies to solid coloured rabbits to produce the better-marked rabbits. An extra tip however, is for the solid coloured sire or dam to be a butterfly carrier – meaning one of its parents was a butterfly.

Responsibility lies with breeders to work on improving their breeding programs, so best not to get too carried away about mainly focusing on elusive coloured butterflies, as maintaining ‘type’ is always a breeder’s utmost priority!

Butterfly photos and guidelines

Could have more length and or width in   the white blaze.

Example of a lovely marked butterfly smut, which consists of solid colour entirely covering the nose and displaying wellrounded open wings.

Elbow patches . . . since he is  leaning over, you can’t quite see  the left elbow patch.

Good example of the ‘blanket’ colour,  starting at the back of the neck and continues over their back, hips, and rump as well as down the sides of the body.                                                               Fully coloured ears are essential!

Broken – the pattern we should not call butterfly!

Above: an extreme example of white on  what are supposed to be coloured ears!  Also has a poorly marked and  incomplete butterfly smut markings.                                                                  Both rabbits lacking ‘blanket’ coloured body.

I do hope breeders will be able to pursue and capture beautiful butterflies now – rather than brokens!

By Christine Carter

Author of ‘The Wonderful World of Pet Rabbits’



Recommended cut off point of white at the shoulders – and then the rest should be solid colour.

Comments are closed.