Why do zebras have stripes? Credit: Wikimedia
Zebras in Africa. Credit: Wikimedia

Why do zebras have stripes?

Zebras are horse-like residents of the African savannah.

They are covered in black and white fur. Each zebra has a unique striped pattern, which is its recognisable sign, just like a human fingerprint.

For a long time scientists thought that their fur was white and the stripes were black, but later they found it was the opposite.

And why are zebras striped?

To make it easier to hide? So that the stripes confuse predators when they are running together? Or to cool them?

None of these hypotheses has enough hard evidence.

Zakaj imajo zebre proge? Te jim lahko pomagajo, da se bolje skrijejo. Vir: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

The researchers then put forward another hypothesis in 2014. A striped pattern could protect the zebras from horse flies. They recently checked and found support for their idea with a simple experiment.

Three groups of animals were formed. In the first group, zebras, in another horses, and in the third horses made to look like zebras.

All three groups were closely watched and recorded in the field. They [the researchers] were counting how many flies were flying around [the animals], and how many landed on them.

All animals had about the same number of flies around them. They [the flies] choose their prey on the basis of smell. But if they are to be able to land, then the animal must also look good.

It turned out that the flies were less successful in landing on the backs of zebras and the horses made to look like zebras. The zebras were also more successful in repelling [flies] with their tails and with twitching their skin.

The results thus indicate that zebra stripes help to protect themselves against annoying horse flies. Protecting against flying bloodsuckers is very important in the African savannah, because they transmit a number of infectious diseases.


Za razmislek

  1. How many sorts of zebras live in Africa?
  2. How do zebras sleep?
  3. Do you know any diseases transmitted by insects?


The original version of this article was published on March 6th.

English translation courtesy of JL Flanner, Total Slovenia News, an English language website with news from and about Slovenia.


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