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A zebra's stripes are not for camouflage


Posted on Thursday, 28 January, 2016 | Comment icon 10 comments

A zebra's stripes appear to dissuade biting insects. Image Credit: John Storr
Scientists have played down the idea that a zebra relies on its stripes to help it hide from predators.
With its distinctive black and white stripes the zebra is one of the most recognizable animals in the world, yet the exact purpose of its monochromatic coat has remained a topic of debate for years.

One of the most common theories is that it helps the animals to stay camouflaged from lions and other predators in the African savannas, but now scientists in Canada have found evidence to suggest that having stripes doesn't actually help the animals stay hidden at all.
The key to their discovery was the realization that while the stripes might make zebras harder for humans to see in certain environments, not all animals see the same way we do.

Experiments using a set of fake stripes designed to simulate how a predator might see them concluded that they had a mostly negligible impact on a zebra's ability to stay hidden.

Instead, the researchers argue, the stripes are most likely a defense mechanism designed to dissuade certain types of horse-flies from biting.


Source: Forbes | Comments (10)


Tags: Zebra, Stripes


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Sundew on 28 January, 2016, 16:12
I thought the stripes as protection from biting flies was old news, like several years old. Two related topics: There are now Bluebird houses you can order that are made of white molded plastic, the color seems to repel (or at least not attract) black flies which prey on the chicks and can weaken and kill them. So color can play a roll in insect attacks. I also read once that bees will more likely go after and sting someone dressed in dark clothing over someone dresses in white or light colors. The other related topic: There was a "species" of zebra known as the Quagga which was hunted to exti... [More]
Comment icon #2 Posted by pallidin on 28 January, 2016, 18:27
Zebras tend to travel in groups I suppose. I've noticed that the stripe pattern is specific to the individual zebra. Could it be a way of the group to easily identify individual members, or for the offspring to identify from a distance its parents? Perhaps there is actually more than a single reason for the stripes?
Comment icon #3 Posted by Otto von Pickelhaube on 28 January, 2016, 18:28
of course they're not. They're bar codes, for stock control purposes.
Comment icon #4 Posted by MJNYC on 28 January, 2016, 19:04
I thought the stripes as protection from biting flies was old news, like several years old. Two related topics: There are now Bluebird houses you can order that are made of white molded plastic, the color seems to repel (or at least not attract) black flies which prey on the chicks and can weaken and kill them. So color can play a roll in insect attacks. I also read once that bees will more likely go after and sting someone dressed in dark clothing over someone dresses in white or light colors. The other related topic: There was a "species" of zebra known as the Quagga which was hunted to exti... [More]
Comment icon #5 Posted by Ell on 28 January, 2016, 23:07
Two or more people independently from one another already concluded that the function of the zebra stripes is to cool down the body.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Sundew on 29 January, 2016, 1:31
Loved your information so did a search and found this: http://www.quaggaproject.org/ Thank you! Thank you for finding the site, nice photos and it looks like they are getting closer to the look of the original animal.
Comment icon #7 Posted by MJNYC on 29 January, 2016, 15:30
Thank you for finding the site, nice photos and it looks like they are getting closer to the look of the original animal. It truly does. I was actually astounded that they were looking more brown too! They are gorgeous. Also, they talk on the site about selling some and just hope they make sure that they are sold to good people not a canned hunt, or something similar.
Comment icon #8 Posted by Codenwarra on 30 January, 2016, 7:26
Not entirely unrelated, perhaps. Science in Western Australia has given preliminary results indicating that sharks lose interest in black and white striped objects, leading to striped surfer wetsuits.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Sundew on 1 February, 2016, 3:27
Not entirely unrelated, perhaps. Science in Western Australia has given preliminary results indicating that sharks lose interest in black and white striped objects, leading to striped surfer wetsuits. https://www.ted.com/..._what_you_think I have heard that may be because of venomous creatures like Lionfish and Sea Kraits which are banded with alternating light and dark stripes and potentially fatal to a predator.
Comment icon #10 Posted by Otto von Pickelhaube on 1 February, 2016, 7:56
I have heard that may be because of venomous creatures like Lionfish and Sea Kraits which are banded with alternating light and dark stripes and potentially fatal to a predator. Perhaps some interesting psychology there, we know that poisonous creatures or poisonous fruits and fungi and things tend to be red, as a deterrent to creatures that might want to eat them, so maybe Zebras have evolved this coloring so that predators will think they're poisonous! Genius idea.


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