Coat Color Genetics of Coyotes, Emphasizing DNA Studies
A brief review of the genes controlling coyote coat colors. The photos of coyotes on this webpage were not the coyotoes actually DNA tested for the coat color they illustrate, contrary to my dog and cattle webpages. This is not ideal, but since I did not do all this research, it's the best I could do.
The photo of a wild coyote crossing a trail, at the right, was taken years ago in Alberta, Canada by the late Dan Wood. It illustrates the tawny coloration that is typical of most coyotes.
This webpage was mounted on October 2, 2014 and last updated on March 11, 2020 by Sheila Schmutz. firstname.lastname@example.org
DNA Studies To Date
Coyotes have an extremely wide geographical range but do not seem to have as much coat color variation as the wolf or dog.
Both of the coyotes in the photo below were trapped in Canada. The one on the top in eastern Canada and the one below in western Canada. The paler colored coyote pelts are currently considered more valuable but both are beautiful in their own right, to my eye.
In a DNA study of the agouti signal protein gene (ASIP) in coyotes, wolves, and dogs we found that there was one base pair difference in exon 4 between the coyote and wolf. However, because this base pair change did not change the amino acid, it probably has not effect on the peptide or coat color. The dog has mutations in exon 4 that affect coat color and so these could be used to prove that there are coydogs, or coyote dog hybrids.
A study by Brockerville et al. (2013) found a polymorphism in coyotes in the 5' region of ASIP, and another in an intron near exon 2.
The photo at the right was taken in March 2018. It is a female coyote near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan that was quite pale.
A recent study of coyotes from Newfoundland and Labrador involved the MC1R gene. Some very pale, almost white coyotes had been observed. The authors found that the dog mutation Arg306ter, commonly known as the "e" allele was homozyougs in these coyotes. They concluded that this allele was the result of dog-coyote hybridization.
The photograph is a mounted specimen on display at the Salmonier Nature Park in Newfoundlnad, which the authors say is an example of such coyote. Photo by Michael Blackwood.
They also found additional polymorphisms, including some that changed amino acids, but none were associated with the very pale coat color. Two, F45L and G102A, have not been observed in dogs.
Brockerville et al. (2013) also studied the K locus in coyotes from Newfoundland. They found 3 polymorphisms in introns but no coding sequence changes. They particularly noted that the KB allele or 3 bp deletion of a glycine that causes black coat color in many breeds of dogs, and also in some black wolves, was not found. Since this is a dominant allele and none of the coyotes they studied were black, this would be expected.
In 2018, we were sent two tiny pelt samples from two "black" coyotes submitted for tanning from western Canada. DNA was extracted from each. Both were heterozygous for the KB allele. This would fit with them having a black coloration. However, just as in wolves, the black is not affecting the entire coat or all the hairs, as would be the case in dogs.
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for further information contact:
Sheila M. Schmutz, Ph.D., Professor Emerita
Department of Animal and Poultry Science
College of Agriculture and Bioresources
University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, Canada S7N 5A8