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Rare “Mutant” Coyotes with Blue Eyes are Only Found in Northern California

Scientists are following a trend of coyote sightings in Northern California, but these coyotes are rare. In fact, they are “one in a million.”

In June 2018, Photographer Daniel Dietrich was in the Point Reyes National Seashore when he photographed a coyote with bright blue eyes, a trait that is rarely seen and probably never documented. Then in January 2018, he photographed a new, distinct coyote with the same blue eyed trait.

Scientists have since called Dietrich’s discovery quite possibly “one in a million.” And now, the blue-eyed “mutation” is being seen all around NorCal.

Since the the discovery of the Point Reyes coyotes, National Geographic has documented blue-eyed coyotes in the Santa Cruz mountains and near Sacramento. The 100-mile perimeter around Point Reyes is the only time the coyotes have been documented and scientists believe that they’re all descendants from one ‘yote with the gene.

Coyotes tend to disperse after a year or two in search of new territory, sometimes traveling up to 20 miles a day. It’s yet to be determined if more coyotes will show up in the area, but with new documentation and photography tools, it’s easier to track them.

Sonoma coyote. Via Flickr/David A. Hofmann

The blue-eyed coyotes of Northern California have perplexed scientists. Through thousands of years evolution, coyotes have developed an eye hue that is best for their environments and their way of living, which is typically a golden brown. Blue eyes could potentially interfere with their camouflage and cause increased light sensitivity.

In the 1800’s, coyotes were prevalent in the Marin area, though they mostly disappeared during the 1900’s. They returned to the area in the 1980’s as an important cog in the local ecosystem, controlling the populations of smaller predators and enabling an influx of bird activity.

As scientists continue to document and track coyotes, we’ll get a better idea of their role in the Northern California ecosystem. If you encounter a coyote, please give it room and view it from a distance.

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