Why do zebras have stripes?

Why do zebras have stripes? People have been asking this question and trying to answer it for centuries now. It is one of the most iconic African animals that has intrigued many people with its unique coat. There are several theories as to why zebras have their characteristic stripes, but the one that makes the most sense is that the stripes provide protective camouflage.

We have always been fascinated by zebras. The striking design they “wear” makes them stand out quickly. However, it seems to be a defense mechanism. Why do zebras have stripes?

An experiment was conducted at the University of Bristol (UK). It consisted of putting blankets of different patterns on the backs of horses. Some imitated the black and white stripes of the zebra. In this way, the behavior of horseflies was studied. These insects are often very annoying when biting animals.


War camouflage

There was a change in insect behavior. Definitely the change in patterns had implications. How did it happen?

“Is it the thinness of the stripes? The contrast of black and white? The polarized signal that objects can emit? And why do zebras have stripes? We set out to explore these issues. We used different fabrics printed on horses and filmed incoming horseflies,” said evolutionary ecologist Tim Caro. He works at the University of Bristol.

This reflected that the insects are more attracted to dark surfaces. By breaking up the black area with white there is effectively less interaction. The striped design caused the most repellency to flies. The higher the contrast, the lower the number of landings.

This is because the white color eliminates in horseflies the field of vision which they interpret as a valid place to feed. The optical effect produced on the insects is only a camouflage. It only reduces the visibility of the zebras among the tiny predators.

Tests were made with different designs.
Tests were made with different designs.

Why zebras

There’s more: another topic continues to be debated: why are zebras the only mammals with hooves that have this design? There are other doubts. This time, regarding the diseases that insects are capable of transmitting. They can be fatal for horses, but not so for ungulates.

“We know that the coat of zebras is short. This allows the mouthparts of horseflies to reach the skin and blood capillaries underneath. It makes them more susceptible to mosquito annoyance,” Caro argued. The research has been published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

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