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Explorando el misterio de los coyotes melánicos: ideas de investigadores del Wolf Conservation Center

Black Coyote Collared SC1b

Melanistic coyotes, with their distinctive black coats, are a marvel in the eastern coyote populations, particularly in the southeastern United States. These rare creatures stand out starkly against both their environment and their more commonly lighter counterparts. Wolf Conservation Center researchers Jazmin “Sunny” Murphy and Dr. Joey Hinton have dived deep into this subject, following Hinton’s 2022 research published in BMC Zoology, uncovering fascinating aspects of these animals.

Genetic Roots of Melanism:

The concept of melanism in coyotes revolves around the presence of melanin, a pigment responsible for darker coloration in mammals. However, the story is more complex than just varying melanin levels. Murphy and Hinton explain that melanism results from increased production of eumelanin, leading to the black coat observed in these animals. This trait in North American gray wolves originated around 12,000 years ago and was passed to coyotes much later, in the 20th century, as they began interbreeding with wolves and dogs in eastern North America.

The researchers also delved into the environmental aspects influencing melanism in coyotes. According to Gloger’s Rule, darker animals are found in warmer, humid regions with dense vegetation, leading to shadier environments. This theory is supported by data collected from hundreds of coyotes, red wolves, and red wolf-coyote hybrids, showing that melanistic coyotes prefer environments with increased canopy cover like coastal bottomland forests.

The Emergence of Black Coyotes:

Interestingly, prior to their eastern expansion, melanism was not found in coyotes. It was only after interbreeding with the red wolf, where melanism was common, that this trait began to appear. The decline and eradication of red wolves opened up pathways for coyotes to move into eastern North America, and hybridization resulted in more coyotes with the melanistic trait. This fascinating journey is an important reminder of how human actions can inadvertently influence wildlife genetics and distribution.

Hinton’s research has revealed that black coyotes have larger home ranges compared to their lighter counterparts. Additionally, they prefer shadier environments with wetland cover. Intriguingly, black coyotes also demonstrate higher annual survival rates, indicating that their dark coats may offer advantages in evading hunters under dense canopy cover.

A A melanistic coyote (458 M) captured and radio-collared in Tyrrell County, NC, 2009. Photo by Joseph W. Hinton. B A melanistic coyote (586 M) captured and radio-collared in Tyrrell County, NC, 2010. Photo by Joseph W. Hinton. C A melanistic coyote (634 M) captured in Washington County, NC, 2011 and euthanized at the behest of the landowner. Photo by Joseph W. Hinton. D A melanistic coyote (SC34M) captured and radio-collared in Saluda County, SC, 2016. Photo by Joseph W. Hinton. E Male melanistic coyote shot by a landowner in Livingston Parish, Louisiana, 2018. Photo courtesy Amy C. Shutt. F A melanistic coyote (LA51M) captured and radio-collared in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, 2022. Photo by Amy C. Shutt

The Importance of Continued Research:

This study provides crucial insights into the unique characteristics and survival strategies of black coyotes. It emphasizes the need for ongoing research to fully understand these animals and their place in the ecosystem. The full depth of Hinton’s research, filled with intriguing findings, is available in his published paper.

For a more comprehensive understanding of these captivating creatures and their journey through evolutionary and ecological paths, readers are encouraged to explore the original research paper: Read the Full Study.