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Nature & Environment

Zebra stripes camouflage theory challenged

By T.K. Randall
January 14, 2015 · Comment icon 15 comments



Just what is the purpose of a zebra's stripes ? Image Credit: John Storr
A new study has suggested that a zebra's stripes might actually be used to help it cool down.
The distinct black and white stripes of a zebra are well known, but their exact purpose has been the subject of heated debate among ecologists for years.

Existing theories include the idea that the stripes help to ward off tsetse flies or that they provide camouflage against predators, but now a new study conducted by researchers in Germany and the US has put forward the notion that the stripes are actually a mechanism to help the animals regulate temperature.
The scientists discovered that variations in stripe sizes and patterns seemed to correlate almost perfectly with the average temperature of a particular region.

"Stripe saturation is greatest in the tropics, where animals experience sustained high temperatures," the researchers wrote. "Stripe width could also play a role in thermoregulation."

"Where Grevy’s and plains zebra co-occur, the thin-striped Grevy’s seeks the shade during noon while the thick-striped plains zebra stands out in the full sun."

Source: The Australian | Comments (15)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #6 Posted by danielost 8 years ago
perhaps they serve both reason's. to keep cool and camouflage. few animals have an adaption that only serves one purpose.
Comment icon #7 Posted by shrooma 8 years ago
Quote- The distinct black and white stripes of a zebra are well known, but their exact purpose has been the subject of heated debate among ecologists for years. . but amongst the fashionistas, the answer has been known for millenia- spots are s-o-o-o last epoch dahlingg..... . [sashays out] .
Comment icon #8 Posted by Ashyne 8 years ago
I can't access the article- it says "You've reached a subscriber-only article" and then it asks me to pay for a digital subion.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Merc14 8 years ago
Fact: no zebras were sunk by German U-boats in the first or 2nd world wars. Like I said, that dazzle paint job just plain works.
Comment icon #10 Posted by Hammerclaw 8 years ago
I can't access the article- it says "You've reached a subscriber-only article" and then it asks me to pay for a digital subion. You probably should clean your computer and thanks for the heads up. Bad Site.
Comment icon #11 Posted by third_eye 8 years ago
Someone is going to blame the female zebras with that citing 'mating selection' , just you wait ~ its always the wimmen folks fault ~ ~
Comment icon #12 Posted by Red Moon 8 years ago
Okapis have similar looking stripes on their legs. African myths and legends about the zebra is usually that the zebra started as plain and then became painted or burned in fire to get stripes in a few stories.
Comment icon #13 Posted by Child of Bast 8 years ago
I always thought it was a barcode so their momma's could use a scanner and tell them apart in a hurry... This is the ONLY possible explanation. Not camouflage. Not regulating temps. Not a bow to fashionistas (sorry shrooma).
Comment icon #14 Posted by Ell 8 years ago
I describe the same cooling function of the zebra stripes in my article Evolution Is Teleological http://goo.gl/94TFbl which I published last year. My thesis about the function of those stripes actually stemmed from 2009, if I recall correctly. But when I did some research on the Internet I discovered that other people had had the same idea and one predated mine, for it was mentioned in some book. I could not discover who had the idea first - perhaps the author(s) of that book? It was quite a letdown for me to discover that other people had had the same idea independently from me.
Comment icon #15 Posted by danielost 8 years ago
Not a very convincing theory. If they wanted to maximize their time in the sun and there for have a higher chance of doing more 'everything' then they would just be pure white to reflect as much sun as possible. It is good camouflage, except most people have never even thought that it was evolved to be camouflage during the night. I on the on the other hand am a genius and just thought of the 'night camo' theory whilst reading the article. it seems that they want to absorb as much sun as possible, their skin is black. the other animal i know of with black skin are polar bears. i am sure there ... [More]


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