Coyotes with baby blue eyes are proliferating in California.
Dogs can have eyes sort of like people: they can be green or green or blue or brown. But in the wild, most animals have brown or black eyes in order to better blend in with their environment. Blue eyes don’t make a lot of sense when you need to be hiding from predators and literally everything needs to look like dead leaves in order to survive.
And yet, a population of coyotes in California is getting blue eyes.
According to National Geographic, blue-eyed ‘yotes were being spotted as early as spring of 2018 when a photographer spotted a steely-eyed canine in Northern California’s Point Reyes National Seashore. Back then, the trait of blue eyes was considered exceedingly rare--”one in a million”, according to the publication.
But in recent months, more and more blue-eyed coyotes have been spotted all up and down the state, from Sacrament to as far south as Santa Cruz. Two are confirmed to be living in Point Reyes, and more around the park.
So what gives? Scientists believe that the gene mutation for blue eyes occurred just a few generations ago, based on Coyote migration patterns. Coyote pups tend to stick around until their first or second year, then they wander off about 10-20 miles away from their birthplace to find their own hunting grounds. This means that it takes a few generations to get the range these blue-eyed doggies are displaying.
Brown eyes have been the norm for centuries as they tend to match the environment. Wolves, foxes, and coyotes all have brown eyes, as do mountain lions and lynxes. Many of these creatures would prey on coyotes, given half a chance.
However, apex predators like mountain lions and wolves are far more scarce thanks to humanity’s interference. This means that coyotes have fewer predators and far less evolutionary pressure to keep brown eyes. And since humans leave a ton of food waste for coyotes to snack on whenever they can’t find something to hunt, there’s even less pressure for coyotes to remain camouflaged for nature.
It’s likely these blue-eyed coyotes will continue to spread until we see them across the continent.