How (or why) The Zebra Actually Got Its Stripes

Despite being perhaps the most recognisable animal on the planet, biologists have been puzzled for centuries over how the zebra got its stripes. But scientists have worked out an answer, and it’s nothing to do with camouflaging themselves in long grass.

The new study says the pattern scrambles the vision of a tinier biter: the bloodsucking horsefly or tsetse fly.

Horseflies, the females of which feed on blood, are attracted to polarized light—light waves that are oriented in a particular direction and that we experience as glare. This glare lures the bugs most likely because it resembles light reflected off water, where they lay their eggs.

On horses, black fur reflects polarized light better than brown or white. The researchers therefore assumed that zebra coats, with their mixtures of light and dark stripes, would be less attractive to flies than those of black horses but more than those of white horses.

But after experiments in which they team measured the number of horseflies that became trapped on gluey, striped boards or models of horses, the team found that zebra stripes are the best fly repellent—and the narrower the stripes the better. Learn more here, here, here or here.

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3 Responses to “How (or why) The Zebra Actually Got Its Stripes”

  1. ntagn Says:

    how interesting..
    Why did you still blogging, Mr Barlow?:)

  2. ntagn Says:

    lol. foiled again by using two very helpful tools —gesture typing and spellcheck— at once. more wondering why you *stopped* than stilled.
    take care!

  3. ntagn Says:

    and now I see you haven’t stopped. feel free to remove all these awkward useless comments MB. ❤

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