Rise of the Melanistics

Imagine for just a minute that you’re walking in the woods, or a field or simply stepping outside your back door.  Now imagine that just a few hundred feet in front of you is a wild animal, any common wild animal, a cat, a wolf, or even a bird.  Now imagine that animal is all black, a rare Melanistic. (Melanistic: dark coloration of skin, hair, fur, or feathers because of a high concentration of melanin)

On Christmas Day 2016 near Cocagne, New Brunswick, Canada, trapper Oswald McFadden discovered just such an animal.  A rare black Bobcat was in one of his traps, at first he thought it was a house cat until he looked at its ears, “I’ve been in these woods all my life and never seen anything like this”.

The rare specimen was given to the New Brunswick Museum where the research curator and head of zoology, Donald McAlpine was, only initially aware of two other Melanistic bobcats sightings in New Brunswick.  After some research he noted that he had found that there have been five or six cases in New Brunswick, ten recorded in Florida and one possible sighting in Oklahoma in 2008 from a trail cam.

In Africa, six rare black servals have been documented from Kenya and Tanzania. One of these rare black servals was photographed in Kenya on February 18, 2017 near Tsavo West National Park by wildlife photographer Sergio Pitamitz. (The serval is a medium sized wild cat that is tan in color with black spots and large ears.)

The best known of the Melanistics are black leopards (Africa, Central Asia, India and China) and black jaguars (South American).  Two others you may not be aware of are the black grey wolf (Alaska, Canada and Asia) and black Eastern Gray squirrels (Midwestern and Northeastern United States, Canada and the United Kingdom)

A black fox was photographed in Halifax, West Yorkshire, England in 2015, and another in Dorset England in 2016.  According to an article from DailyMail.co.uk , only a handful have been seen in Britain in recent years.

Melanistics are on the rise and its not only our four footed furry friends, but the feathery ones too. A black flamingo was spotted in Cyprus in 2015 at the Akrotiri Environmental Centre in a salt lake and a all black King Penguin was filmed on the sub Antarctic island of Southern Georgia also in 2015.

Melanism is not exclusive to just mammals, its also found in reptiles as well.  There has been an increase in black lizards and snakes for the pet trade created through selective breeding, but there have also been sightings in the wild.  Such is the case with the Garter snakes in Canada of which there are six species.  Typically this medium sized snake is marked with long horizontally stripes from off brown to black with red, yellow and orange, and are commonly found throughout Canada with the exception New Foundland.  Many  black garter snakes have been seen over the years, and is up for debate as to  whether or not they are truly melanistic or a pseudo-melanistic, where the spots or stripes are larger or wider giving the reptiles an all black appearance. Other examples of pseudo-melanism are black Zebras and black Tigers.

Global warming has had a definite impact on all wildlife, with so many species slowly disappearing.  These mutations aren’t just creating all black animals, sightings and photos of albino (all white) animals have been increasing in recent years. Perhaps these mutations could be a key to their survival with the changing climates of extreme temperatures and we may all begin to see melanistic or albino animals on a regular basis.

On February 1, 2017 in Ontario, Canada around 5pm EST, I walked into my kitchen to pour myself a coffee, I saw two of my cats looking very intensely out the window. So, I looked out the kitchen window fully expecting to see birds. But, instead standing about 200 feet away was a large all black cat.  I watched as it took a few steps in the snow and suddenly realized that I was looking at a black Bobcat.  I ran for my camera to try and get some pictures, but the zoom lens wasn’t on and of course by the time I got the lens on, the bobcat was gone back into the woods behind our house.  I was hoping to get some pictures of the tracks the next day, but rain overnight melted all of the snow leaving no trace. I will be putting up a couple trail cams and hopefully I’ll have some pictures to share of the black bobcat that I’ve decided to call Mel.

Below are a few more articles about melanistic animals you may find interesting:

National Geographic – Rare Black Wildcat Caught on Film (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/black-serval-kenya-melanism-cats/)
National Geographic – Ultra-Rate Black Flamingo Spotted in Cyprus (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/150417-black-flamingo-cyrpus-birds-genetics-animals-science/)
National Geographic – Mutant All-Black Penguin Found (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/03/100316-antarctica-black-penguin-video)
CBC News Canada – Black Bobcat snared in N.B. (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/black-bobcat-melanistic-christmas-1.3913761)

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