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Scientists have discovered why zebras have black and white stripes

Research suggests that Zebras have evolved white and black patterns to keep pests away from biting them.

Scientists have discovered why zebras have black and white stripes
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | James Warwick

Zebras are known for their striking black and white stripes, a unique feature that distinguishes them from other animals. However, there has been a longstanding question that has puzzled scientists: why do these animals have stripes? Recent research has provided some compelling explanations for this distinctive coat pattern. Professor Tim Caro and Dr. Martin How from the University of Bristol's Faculty of Biological Sciences conducted the study, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, per Indy 100.

Image Source: Getty Images/James Warwick
Image Source: Getty Images | James Warwick


Experts believe the animal's black and white patterns evolved to keep pests like horseflies from attacking them. Professor Caro said, "We knew that horseflies are averse to landing on striped objects - a number of studies have now shown this, but it is not clear which aspects of stripes they find aversive. Is it the thinness of the stripes? The contrast of black and white? The polarized signal that can be given off objects? So we set out to explore these issues using different patterned cloths draped over horses and filmed incoming horseflies." 

The researchers noticed that tabanid horseflies are drawn to huge, dark things. Yet, dark fractured patterns were found to be less appealing. By far the most landings were found on all-grey jackets. Following that were jackets with enormous black triangles placed in different positions, followed by little checkerboard designs in no particular order. In a second experiment, researchers discovered that contrasting stripes attracted fewer flies than homogenous stripes. Caro said, "This suggests that any hoofed animal that reduces its overall dark outline against the sky will benefit in terms of reduced ectoparasite attack." 

Image Source: Getty Images/Darrell Gulin
Image Source: Getty Images | Darrell Gulin


The team is now curious as to why natural selection has driven striping in equids but not in other hoofed species. He said, "We know that zebra pelage – fur – is short, enabling horsefly mouthparts to reach the skin and blood capillaries below, which may make them particularly susceptible to fly annoyance, but more important, perhaps, is that the diseases that they carry are fatal to the horse family but less so to ungulates. This needs investigation."

The Animal kingdom is absolutely fascinating and, no doubt attracts attention. The more researchers strive to discover the mysteries of aquatic and animal life, the more exciting the animal worlds become. In another recent finding, a complicated link between two aquatic species has emerged. Science Girl shared a video on Twitter on the symbiotic link between Cleaner Shrimps (Lysmata grabhami) and Moray Eels (Muraenidae). This video has received over 1 million views and over 15,000 likes.

Image Source: Getty Images/Mint Images
Image Source: Getty Images | Mint Images


The tweet mentions, "These shrimp clean parasites, dead skin and algae around the moray eel’s eyes, gills, and teeth, they get a free meal, and the eel is cleared of its parasitic load." Many were intrigued by this information and some even added to it. Twitter user, @gunsnrosesgirl3, wrote, "The moray's home (crevice) is often lined with shrimps, they are protected from predators for the services they provide."  

Another person, @abc_science, shared some facts about other mutualistic relationships between animals. They wrote, "Similarly, [the] mutualistic relationship between figs & fig wasps is [a] unique example of inter-species cooperation. Figs provide a place for wasps to lay eggs & in return, wasps pollinate figs, ensuring their survival."

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