29 December 2016

Prevalence of black bobcats in New Brunswick puzzles biologist

No ecological or environmental reason it should be more prevalent in Florida and New Brunswick: curator

By Shane Fowler, CBC News

New Brunswick Museum Head of Zoology and Research Curator Donald McAlpine says he doesn't have a good answer as to why melanistic bobcats, like this one snared on Christmas Day, have only been recorded in New Brunswick and Florida.

A New Brunswick biologist says he's stymied by the fact that New Brunswick appears to be one of just two places in the world that pure black bobcats have ever been found.

On Christmas Day a melanistic bobcat was found in dead in a trapper's snare near Cocagne, N.B., the third such animal ever found in New Brunswick.

Florida is the only other place the rare felines have ever been reported.
 
"The obvious question is why Florida and New Brunswick?  I don't have a good answer for that," wrote Donald McAlpine, the research curator and head of zoology at the New Brunswick Museum, in an email. "I can't see any ecological or environmental reason it should be more prevalent in Florida and New Brunswick over other jurisdictions."

McAlpine says it may simply be due to the melanistic cats not being observed and recorded in other areas.

Biologist and Head of Zoology at the New Brunswick Museum, Donald McAlpine, says there could be several issues at play with melanistic bobcats only being reported in New Brunswick and Florida including genetics and the animals simply being missed elsewhere.

"Another possibility is the random appearance and persistence of this genetic mutation in the two localities," stated McAlpine in an email. "My guess is that melanistic bobcat probably have appeared elsewhere from time to time but have not been reported, for whatever reason."
 
Melanistic animals are individuals that have a genetic trait that causes their skin pigment to be expressed completely black. It is regarded as the opposite of albinism where pigment is not expressed at all and animals appear completely white.

A black bobcat carcass was obtained by the New Brunswick Museum in 2013 although nothing has yet been published on that find. This brings the total number of melanistic bobcats recorded in New Brunswick to three. Only 13 have ever recorded.

McAlpine confirmed Thursday that the bobcat snared on Christmas was in the third such animal ever found in New Brunswick. A paper he co-authored in 1995 with Jay Tischendorf, A Melanistic Bobcat from Outside Florida, stated the only other case of melanism found in a Canadian bobcat was in a male juvenile trapped in November 1983.

But another animal found in Gaspereau Forks was obtained by the New Brunswick Museum in 2013. McAlpine confirmed that nothing had been published on the 2013 animal.

"This second record is represented by a specimen (skin, skeleton, dried tissue, frozen tissue)  in the (museum) collection," wrote McAlpine.

Only 10 other melanistic bobcats have ever been reported, all in Florida.
 
Trapper Oswald McFadden told CBC News that he is considering giving the animal to the New Brunswick Museum. He has been offered cash and hunting trips for the animal he found in the trap line he has maintained for the last decade.

Regardless of McFadden's decision it seems at least part of the rare cat will make its way to the museum for research. 

"The (museum) would be very interested in the skin, ideally still attached to the carcass," wrote McAlpine, adding that a skinned carcass would still be turned over to the museum for research purposes.