A strain of white coyote believed to be found only on the island of Newfoundland has caught the attention of National Geographic.
Science researcher Carl Zimmer has written an article on the white coyotes in the current issue of the magazine.
Zimmer said he became interested in writing about the white coyote after he stumbled across a research paper in the January 2013 edition of the journal Mammalian Genome written by researchers at Memorial University and wildlife officials at Newfoundland and Labrador's Department of Environment and Conservation.
Zimmer said the scientific paper described the DNA of six white coyotes — turned in by hunters to wildlife officials — and an interesting theory on the origin of the genetic mutation.
"This raises, I think, a very plausible possibility that the coyotes in Newfoundland got this gene from a golden retriever," said Zimmer.
Zimmer pointed out that there were reports in Newfoundland that a coyote had run off with a golden retriever dog in 2001.
"It's possible that that golden retriever produced hybrids that passed down its gene into the coyote population."
Coyote populations change quickly
Zimmer said coyote populations change and expand quickly, and gene mutations happen rapidly.
"What makes coyotes so interesting is that they're not really an incredibly distinct species," said Zimmer.
"They do interbreed with dogs, they interbreed with wolves as well."
Zimmer noted that coyotes in eastern North America are larger than those in western North America, which could be evidence that coyotes breed both with dogs and wolves.
The writer, who lives in New England, said there are lots of coyotes in his area, but he's never seen any like the ones found in Newfoundland.
"I've never seen any reports of white coyotes before," said Zimmer.
"These aren't albinos, these are white coyotes in the sense that polar bears are white. For now, this is unique to Newfoundland."