Scientists find out why zebras have stripes

Katie Ramirez
February 23, 2019

A team of researchers conducted a series of interesting experiments to try to figure out why zebras have stripes all over their bodies.

"From distances of greater than two metres or so, a zebra would just look like a grey horse - they won't be able to see the stripes at all", said How.

Study leader Professor Tim Caro, from the University of California at Davis, US, said: "Once they get close to the zebras... they tend to fly past or bump into them".

To prove their point, the academics dressed up a domestic horse as a zebra, to show fewer flies land on them.

Flies approach zebras animal with the intention of landing and drinking the zebra's blood.

Dr Martin How, co-author of the research from the University of Bristol, said: "The flies seemed to be behaving relatively naturally around both [zebras and horses], until it comes to landing".

So, as JoAnna Klein reports for theNew York Times, a group of researchers headed to a farm in Britain where domestic horses are kept alongside zebras that were born in captivity.

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Researchers may have finally discovered why zebras have stripes, with new experiments showing that horse flies find it more hard to land on zebras than they do on uniformly coloured horses. Theories about their function have included camouflage, a means of confusing predators, a method of signalling other zebras, and a system of heat control.

The researchers videoed horse flies as they tried to prey on captive zebras and domestic horses at a livery in North Somerset, England.

Researchers do not yet understand why zebras evolved these sophisticated defense mechanisms, according to a UC Davis statement.

The team closely observed zebras as flies attempted to land on them and made detailed videos to record flight trajectories as flies move close to the zebras. (2019) Benefits of zebra stripes: Behaviour of tabanid flies around zebras and horses. Horses, on the other hand, primarily twitch and occasionally swish to ward off flies. Zebras swish their tails nearly continuously during the day to keep flies off, stop eating when flies bother them, and run away if the flies are particularly persistent.

Compared to rates at which flies landed on the white coats and the black coats, hardly any landed on the striped coats.

African horse flies carry diseases such as trypanosomiasis (which cause fever, headaches, joint pains and itching and can later on include behavioural changes, confusion and poor coordination) and African horse sickness that causes wasting.

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