A black-coated Canada lynx has been caught on camera, the first time ever that a melanistic lynx has been recorded.
Smartphone camera footage, recorded in August 2020, shows a black lynx sitting about 50 meters away in a suburban environment near Yukon, Canada. A dog is heard barking throughout the 30-second clip.
The video is supplementary material to the manuscript Paint it black: first record of melanism in Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) by Thomas S. Jung, published in the De Gruyter journal Mammalia on October 10, 2022.
Lynx fur is typically silvery gray in the winter and a darker reddish brown during summer. The appearance of a black Canadian lynx is therefore of great interest to experts.
“There are only a small number of records of coat color polymorphisms in the genus Lynx,” writes Jung in his published paper.
“The adaptive significance of melanism in lynx is unknown, but the loss of camouflage when hunting during winter is likely maladaptive.”
It’s not clear whether its coloring is an advantage or disadvantage to its survival, though Jung speculates that it’s likely the latter. That’s because Canada lynxes typically hunt snowshoe hares. These hares do like to frequent burned-down forests, where the cat’s black coat might not stick out during the warmer months of the year.
“However, dark-colored Canada lynx are likely far less camouflaged to snowshoe hare during winter when the ground is covered with deep snow,” Jung writes. “Hence, melanistic individuals would be at a distinct disadvantage when hunting hares during winter.”
The brevity of the sighting means it hasn’t been possible to run any detailed examinations of the lynx’s coat color, beyond a few quick observations. Although the footage is shaky and unsharp, several experts have confirmed that the creature is indeed a Canada lynx.
“It had a black coat containing whitish gray guard hairs throughout, as well as whitish-gray hairs in the facial ruff and the rostrum and dorsal regions,” reports Jung.
Though their numbers are stable in the Northern parts of Canada and Alaska, Canadian lynx populations are disappearing elsewhere in the U.S. and southern Canada. Human encroachment and the effects of climate change, such as more frequent and fiercer wildfires, are expected to further threaten the species.