Yellowstone National Park’s Northern Range is arguably the best place in North America to see wolves, including black wolves, which are scarcer in most other populations.
About half the park’s wolves, last estimated at around 95 animals, have a black coat. The other half of Yellowstone’s wolves are mostly gray. White-coated wolves are rare in the park.
The gene mutation that makes a wolf’s hair black has been known for more than a decade. It’s also been hypothesized that black-coated wolves, because of this mutation, are better equipped to survive outbreaks of deadly canine distemper virus (CDV).
Newly published research now nails down that connection.
“I started this research 10 years ago and found a significant association between exposure to CDV and coat color when I analyzed Yellowstone wolves’ survival,” said Sarah Cubaynes, of the University of Montpellier in France, via email. “But at the time we tried to publish the paper in Nature, and they said we lacked data from other populations to confirm this relationship.”
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Cubaynes was the lead author of the new study titled “Disease outbreaks select for mate choice and coat color in wolves,” published in the