State environmental officials are saying its as rare as hitting the lottery twice in one lifetime. Perhaps not as lucrative but rare nonetheless. Very odd, senior wildlife manager Ken Kogut said of Gene Wilsons recent rabbit hunting trip. For the second year in a row, Gene shot a melanistic nearly all black snowshoe rabbit near his home in Mineville. Its kind of like the odds of winning the lottery. Every once in a while, you hear of someone winning twice in one lifetime. I guess thats what happened here, Kogut said. Interestingly, when Gene connected on the second black rabbit this January, he was nearly 10 miles from where he shot the first - which means a genetic relevance is unlikely. Gene took the first rabbit last December while hunting by Hatch Pond off Tracy Road. The second came on Mud Pond Turn in Mineville. While some might argue the rabbit could have been a wayward pet, Gene said hes been hunting snowshoes long enough to recognize the difference. We had white ones that day too and, aside from its color, this rabbit looked identical to the others, Gene said. How it happens
Melanism is a condition in which a person or animal has increased levels of melanin in their system. It is the opposite of albinism, which occurs due to a lack of melanin. Some animals appear more prone to the condition, a fact scientists attribute to their innate ability to blend into their surroundings. In Malaysia and Southeast Asia, for example, up to 50 percent of the leopard population has melanism. That is apparently due to them being more cryptic in their dusky rainforest habitat. The condition actually works against the snowshoe rabbit, however, which traditionally turns white in winter in order to blend into its wintery surroundings. They are extremely vulnerable to predators, Kogut said. That is what makes them that much more rare. Biologists have disagreed somewhat on just how rare the condition is. Ive seen estimates as high as 1 in 100,000 animals, but Kogut put the number at 1 in 50,000. This is not the first melanistic animal Ive encountered. All species will come up with a jet black version at one time or another, from wolves to coyotes to foxes and felines. Perhaps the most common are squirrels, where about 1 in 5,000 are melanistic. Other color variations also occur. Mostly white a condition known as piebald and entirely white with pink eyes, or albino, are conditions also found in our Adirondack wilderness. Do deer get frostbite?
I have read articles and heard tales about deer enduring frostbite especially on the tender tips of their ears, but Kogut said neither he nor veteran DEC biologist Ed Reed have ever seen evidence of such. Deer, like moose, have hollow hairs which provide extreme insulation in cold climates. In fact, they are able to withstand much colder climates than ours without experiencing frostbite or hypothermia, he said. Kogut said deer try to escape biting winds that can penetrate their blanket-like hide by yarding together in areas of softwood with thick underbrush. Unfortunately, these areas offer little in the way of food. That, combined with an inability to get to water, can cause winter kill - more so than temperature, he said. It looks like the deer have been fairing pretty well so far this winter, he added. Of course, that can change with late snow and other extreme weather.