Why Do Zebras Have Stripes?

While most people think of zebras as white animals with black stripes, scientists have found that zebras are actually black animals with white stripes. Similar to fingerprints, each zebra has a unique pattern of stripes. However, the question remains: why do zebras have stripes?

Whether they are roaming in a zoo or running across the Serengeti, zebras stand out due to their black and white striped pattern. However, this may not be the case when it comes to their predators.

In the wild, zebras’ main predators are lions, which are known to be color blind. Zoologists, who study animals, believe that the zebra’s pattern serves as camouflage, helping it hide from predators.

Imagine that you can only see black, white, and shades of gray. A solid-colored dark horse standing in light-colored tall grass would be very noticeable. On the other hand, a zebra’s stripes help it blend in with grasses and brush, making it harder to spot.

Some biologists also suggest that zebras’ stripes may be beneficial when they run in a herd. When a large number of zebras move together, their stripes may appear as one large running animal. This optical illusion may confuse predators, making it difficult for them to single out a target for attack.

However, recent studies have questioned the popular camouflage theory. Researchers have noticed that many other grazing animals in Africa do not have similar striping to deter predators.

Instead, researchers have discovered two other possible purposes for the stripes: regulating body temperature and deterring biting flies. Scientists became interested in these possibilities when they observed that zebras in hotter areas tend to have more stripes.

In a comprehensive study of African zebras, researchers found a close correlation between zebra stripes and temperature and precipitation, rather than the presence of lions. This led them to doubt the camouflage theory and explore alternative explanations.

While no definitive conclusions can be drawn from these new studies, scientists now believe that zebra stripes may help keep zebras cooler. Some scientists propose that air moves faster over black stripes and slower over white stripes, causing air to swirl where the stripes meet and cooling the zebra’s skin.

Other researchers suggest that zebras in hotter areas have more stripes to deter disease-carrying biting flies, such as tsetse flies and horseflies. It has been observed that these biting flies, which thrive in hot weather, are less likely to land on striped surfaces. Therefore, the increased number of stripes in warmer areas could serve as a natural defense against these biting flies.

Try It Out

Are you interested in learning more about zebras? Gather a friend or family member and embark on a safari with the following activities:

  • Are you a fan of zebras? We certainly are! Go online and browse through these zebra photos. Try to imagine how their stripes could confuse their predators.
  • You may not be able to go to Africa, but you can definitely visit your local zoo to explore some of the most fascinating animals on the planet. Take this convenient zoo passport with you to keep track of your observations.
  • Have you ever worn camouflage clothing? If you’ve gone hunting and worn camouflage clothing, you probably know how the colors and patterns on such clothing help you blend in with the outdoor environment. But what about urban camouflage? What if you were a spy? What would you wear to blend in and avoid drawing attention at a local mall? Ask an adult to take you on a field trip to the mall. Bring a pencil and notebook to jot down your observations. Find a spot where you can sit for a while and observe others. The food court might be a good spot for surveillance. What do you see? How do people dress? Do some people stand out? If they do, you’ll want to avoid looking like them! Try your best to figure out what kind of clothing would help you blend in and go unnoticed by everyone while you’re on your top-secret spy mission at the mall!

Interesting Sources

  • https://www.livescience.com/49447-zebras-stripes-cooling.html
  • https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/01/150113-zebras-stripes-evolution-animals-science-africa/

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