Scientists find out why zebras have stripes

23 February, 2019, 20:37 | Author: Sherry Houston
  • Why the zebra got its stripes: to deter flies from landing on it

In a new study, researchers at the University of California Davis performed a series of experiments that investigated how stripes altered the behavior of biting insects.

They suggested that horse flies gathered around domestic horses and zebras at a similar rate - but landed on zebras a quarter as often. Therefore, it is unsurprising that zebras utilise both behavioural defences and morphological striping to avoid horse flies.

It just took one seriously obsessed scientist, some horses and a couple zebra parkas.

"Stripes may dazzle flies in some way once they are close enough to see them with their low-resolution eyes", says coauthor Martin How of the University of Bristol.

More recent research has suggested that somehow the stripes reduce the chances of a zebra being bitten by flies.

Scientists conducted an experiment on a United Kingdom horse farm in Somerset that involved zebras as well as horses dressed in black and white striped coats.

Researchers made their discovery by spending more than 16 hours standing in fields and noting how horseflies interacted with nine horses and three zebras - including one somewhat bemusingly called Spot.

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To check the effect was not caused by a different smell of zebras and horses, for example, the researchers put black, white and zebra-striped coats on seven horses in turn.

Researchers on Wednesday described experiments demonstrating that horse flies have a hard time landing on zebras while easily landing on uniformly colored 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.

Compared to rates at which flies landed on the white and the black coats, hardly any landed on the striped coats. Now, a new study suggests that the stripes may have a different objective entirely. The striped animals nearly continuously swish their tails during the day and will stop feeding if they feel bothered.

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

"We noticed that tabanids approaching zebras failed to decelerate in a controlled fashion towards the end of their flight trajectories whereas they steadily decelerated before landing or touching horse pelage", the paper reads. Horses, on the other hand, primarily twitch and occasionally swish to ward off flies.

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