Science

Zebras: Why do they have stripes?

Zebras: Why do they have stripes?”

Researchers both watched the animals and filmed them, recording the number of horseflies-which bite animals to obtain blood-that hovered nearby. He found horseflies had no problem spotting either group, but they were awful at landing on the striped horses.

Study leader Professor Tim Caro, from the University of California at Davis, US, told the Press Association: "Once they get close to the zebras... they tend to fly past or bump into them".

They found that although flies circled and touched horses and zebras at similar rates, they actually landed on zebras 25 per cent less often. It seems the stripes do something that messes with the flies own movement, making it hard to land.

Close cousins to horses and donkeys, the world's three zebra species, known for their black-and-white striped bodies, roam Africa's savannas eating a variety of grasses.

Dr Martin How, a member of the team from the University of Bristol, said: 'Stripes may dazzle the flies in some way once they are close enough to see them with their low-resolution eyes'.

This does not happen with domestic horses, which are without stripes. The scientists filmed flies as they approached zebras and as they approached horses wearing zebra coats.

Rudyard Kipling supposed the zebra acquired its stripes so it could blend into the forest shadows, hidden away from the leopard and man.

When solid-colored horses were dressed in the "zebra coats" the flies made far fewer landings on the patterned areas, but still landed on the uncovered, non-striped head.

The team closely observed zebras as flies attempted to land on them and made detailed videos to record flight trajectories as flies move close to the zebras.

In contrast domestic horses chiefly twitch to flick away flies and only occasionally swish their tails.

Researchers think that zebras may have evolved this way because where they live. Some thought stripes must help zebras blend into the grasses to avoid lions, which is the worst explanation I've ever heard.

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

African horse flies carry diseases such as trypanosomiasis and African horse sickness that cause wasting and can be fatal.

Scientists have wondered about the evolution of zebras' two-tone stripes for over 150 years. The zebra swished tails nearly continuously to ward off flies, while horses primarily twitch and occasionally swish tails to ward off flies.



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