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Why do Zebras Have Stripes

The unique black and white stripes on a zebra make them one of the most distinctive animals in the world. Like fingerprints, each animal has a different pattern of stripes and they can be identified from this alone. There are 3 species of zebra, the mountain zebra, plains zebra, and Grévy’s zebra. The mountain zebra resembles a donkey (ass), while the other two species share characteristics of the horse. Zebras are only found in Africa where they are found in a variety of different habitats. Have you ever wondered why zebras have stripes? Keep reading to find out.

Why do zebras have stripes?
Scientists know that zebras developed stripes via natural selection. However, they are not absolutely sure why these stripes were favored in the harsh African environment over the colors of the zebras ancestors. The following theories about the benefits of black and white stripes on the zebra are the most widely accepted.

The first theory relates to camouflage. It is thought that the black and white stripes help the zebra hide in the grass. Although this sounds implausible because the black and white is quite distinctive to the human eye, it is important to remember that the lion is colorblind! The stripes on a zebra tend to merge at distance, which makes them appear gray. The black and white striping is also a very effective camouflage in areas of dead trees (see image).

Zebra camouflaged behind dead trees

The second theory suggests that the striping on a zebra may confuse or dazzle predators when they get close. Another theory related to this is that the stripes allow a herd of zebras to appear larger to potential predators and make it harder to attack a single animal. This theory has also been applied to pests and studies have shown the stripes on zebras confuse flies, which can cause disease in animals.

Another theory suggests that zebras use stripes to identify each other, but this has not been confirmed in any studies. A related theory suggests that any damage to the striping pattern alerts other animals that it is not fit to be a potential mate.

Other unsubstantiated theories suggest that the stripes control the temperature (black absorbs heat and the white reflects it) of the animal or that they correlate to the pattern of fat stores under the skin.

Did you know?
It was once thought that zebras were white animals with black stripes, but recent evidence has shown that they are actually black with white stripes!

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