Researchers solve the mystery of the zebra coat hair.
Zebra- striped accessories, zebra crossings, zebrawood: zebra coat is peculiar and well known all over the world. Yet, the origin of zebra stripes has long been a mystery: in over a century, scientists developed various hypotheses. Social factors, cooling mechanisms and camouflage against predators, were proposed as possible explanations. However, no striking evidence could support one particular theory, so the black and white striping in zebra was believed to remain a grey area.
But then there came this research group from California, who, thanks to advanced statistical analyses, cleared the enigma. They drew a geographical distribution of different zebra species, living or extinct, and complemented that with the locations’ temperatures, the number and position of stripes on zebras’ bodies, the presence of predators or biting flies in the habitats, and data on zebra societies, like group size and animal size. The combination of all these data provided an indication on the most likely explanation for zebra puzzled coat. So which theory wins? Can black and white stripes fool lions? Do stripes determine the role of the animal within the group? Or do they act as cooling mechanisms?
All it takes to survive
Surprisingly, none of the mechanisms above are true. They found that the striped coat confuses tsetse flies, which find the striped look confusing and unappealing. It saves the zebras from various, frequently fatal, diseases and considerable blood losses. If you think about that, you can be caught by a lion only once, but you can get bitten so many times by annoying insects.
Gives us a breaking new tip for a great summer: you may look kitsch, but: wear stripes and avoid mosquitoes!
Caro, T., Izzo, A., Reiner, R., Walker, H., & Stankowich, T. (2014). The function of zebra stripes Nature Communications, 5 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4535