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Scientists solve why zebras have stripes


Posted on Wednesday, 2 April, 2014 | Comment icon 36 comments

Why do zebras have stripes ? Image Credit: John Storr
A new study has revealed the strongest evidence yet that the stripes help to deter biting insects.
The precise purpose of a zebra's stripes had remained something of a mystery for years with some of the more common theories ranging from providing camouflage to reducing body temperature.

The answer, as it turns out, is that the stripes on a zebra, like on several other animals, serve to help keep away biting insects. By analyzing and comparing a number of factors pertaining to each of the most popular hypotheses, researchers were able to rule out the facts that didn't fit and identify those that did, such as the discovery that most of the species that do possess stripes like those of a zebra tend to live in countries where biting flies most commonly prove to be a problem.

"We found again and again and again [that] the only factor which is highly associated with striping is to ban biting flies," said study leader Tim Caro. "I was delighted to see the results were so strong in one direction."

Source: National Geographic | Comments (36)

Tags: Zebra, Stripes

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #27 Posted by aquatus1 on 4 April, 2014, 0:46
This is what I call a worthwhile cause: Good for you. I'm sure a lot of people agree. Pretending a researcher should drop whatever he's doing because you don't think its worthwhile and go research something you approve of is still silly. And rather presumptuous.
Comment icon #28 Posted by freetoroam on 4 April, 2014, 1:21
Good for you. I'm sure a lot of people agree. Pretending a researcher should drop whatever he's doing because you don't think its worthwhile and go research something you approve of is still silly. And rather presumptuous. My initial post mentioned to research why man is killing off the wildlife.......which is what Tim is also doing....which is what I find WORTHWHILE, not stripe spotting! It does not mean they have to stop what they are doing, as long as the research for personal interests are not being funded by the tax payers, they can do what ever they like. I di not get where you are getti... [More]
Comment icon #29 Posted by aquatus1 on 4 April, 2014, 3:31
My initial post mentioned to research why man is killing off the wildlife....... Your initial post complained about funding being used for stripe research, instead of investigating the human brain. which is what Tim is also doing.... Hardly. He's investigating human impact on the environment, of course, like pretty much any field biologist. The closest he's come to researching man killing off wildlife is a paper on behavioral ecology, which is more along the lines of the evolutionary behaviour patterns of animals in response to changes in their environment, than humans directly killing them. H... [More]
Comment icon #30 Posted by JGirl on 4 April, 2014, 3:37
if thats the case why only in Africa?, I thought it was to make the predators eye's go bluery when the Zebra's travel in a huge herd? this is basically what i learned too, and also that when they are in a herd it's very difficult for the predator to attack the hind end because it cannot distinguish it from the other body parts.the idea that this is merely to ward off biting insects is not only silly to me, but i notice there is no detailed information in the article to explain the study or it's findings. btw if striping were a way to keep away biting flies it would work for humans as well. i'm... [More]
Comment icon #31 Posted by Wickian on 4 April, 2014, 5:19
I always assumed they had stripes because somewhere along their evolutionary path they got very vain and wanted to start showing the other horses up...
Comment icon #32 Posted by toast on 4 April, 2014, 10:25
To avoid flies, that`s funny! I do not think the the evolution processed such pattern just to make the life of zebras more comfortable. (Ok, mosquitos are able to transfer causative organisms, but I will exclude this fact here.) If there is such an effect I`m sure it`s just a side-effect but not the main reason for that zebra pattern/colors. I`m sure the main reason is another one. Zebras are gregarious animals so the pattern might be designed to complicate the visual cognition of a single animal within a group of zebras, and its by predators targeted body sections like the neck, by predators.... [More]
Comment icon #33 Posted by freetoroam on 4 April, 2014, 11:26
Your initial post complained about funding being used for stripe research, instead of investigating the human brain. Hardly. He's investigating human impact on the environment, of course, like pretty much any field biologist. The closest he's come to researching man killing off wildlife is a paper on behavioral ecology, which is more along the lines of the evolutionary behaviour patterns of animals in response to changes in their environment, than humans directly killing them. His paper on weaponry evolved by female gazelles is more along the lines. Again, good for you. "Tim" doesn't seem to a... [More]
Comment icon #34 Posted by :PsYKoTiC:BeHAvIoR: on 11 April, 2014, 11:54
I was hoping these scientists also determined whether zebras were black with white stripes or vice versa.
Comment icon #35 Posted by Cerbero on 11 April, 2014, 21:19
I thought it had the purpose of making sexy underwear seriously, I dont think its just to avoid flies... the most logical reason has to be to protect them from the hotter seasons sun
Comment icon #36 Posted by mackbolin on 14 April, 2014, 0:28
mmmmm....will this work for mosquitoes.


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