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Why do Zebras have Stripes?

posted Dec 9, 2016, 2:48 PM by Ann Marostica

There are many theories on why zebras have stripes. Some think the stripes act as camouflage or a way to confuse predators. Others believe the stripes help zebras regulate body heat or choose their mates.

Scientists at the University of California at Davis decided to find the answer. They studied where the species (and subspecies) of zebras, horses, and asses lived. They gathered information on the color, location, and size of stripes on the bodies of the zebras. Then they mapped the locations of tsetse flies and tabanids like horseflies and deer flies. A few other variables, some statistical analysis, and voila. They had their answer.

“I was amazed by our results,” said researcher Tim Caro. “Again and again, there was greater striping on areas of the body in those parts of the world where there was more annoyance from biting flies.”

Zebras are more vulnerable to biting flies because their hair is shorter than that of similar animals like horses. These blood-sucking flies can carry deadly diseases, so it’s important for zebras to avoid this risk.

Other researchers from the University of Sweden found that flies avoid zebra stripes because they’re the right width. If they were wider, the zebras wouldn’t be protected. In that study, more flies were attracted by black surfaces, fewer by white surfaces and the fewest by stripes.