Published: Sat, February 23, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Why zebras have stripes: Black and white pattern 'dazzles' blood-sucking flies

Why zebras have stripes: Black and white pattern 'dazzles' blood-sucking flies

Professor Tim Caro and Dr. Martin How of the University of Bristol and their colleagues say they found this evidence by observing and investigating the behavior of horse-flies which live around captive zebras and domestic horses in North Somerset.

It just took one seriously obsessed scientist, some horses and a couple zebra parkas.

The areas of research involving camouflage and social benefits have many nuanced theories.

Their new study has shown that stripes don't deter horse flies from a distance, with both zebras and domestic horses experiencing the same rate of circling from the flies.

In Africa where zebras are native, horse flies carry unsafe debilitating diseases such as trypanosomiasis and African horse sickness which cause wasting and often death.

Scientists conducted an experiment on a United Kingdom horse farm in Somerset that involved zebras as well as horses dressed in black and white striped coats.

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There are no flies on a zebra thanks to the evolution of their black and white stripes, according to scientists at the University of Bristol.

To confirm that it was indeed coat pattern that was thwarting the flies' precision, the researchers kitted some of the horses out in three cloth jackets: one white, one black and one zebra-striped. "This indicates that stripes may disrupt the flies' abilities to have a controlled landing".

The mystery of why zebras have black and white stripes may have been solved as scientists find the pattern "dazzles" blood-sucking flies.

Horse-flies are an annoying and widespread problem for domestic animals, but researchers believe this problem could be solved with anti-fly coats which resemble zebra stripes. Zebras swish their tails nearly continuously during the day to keep flies off, stop eating when flies bother them, and run away if the flies are particularly persistent. Horses, on the other hand, primarily twitch and occasionally swish to ward off flies. Researchers used high-resolution cameras to record insects' flight trajectories as they cruised close to zebras. As a result, any flies that actually contacted zebras were soon dislodged compared to horses. A possible explanation is zebras may be highly prone to infectious diseases carried by African biting flies, although that hypothesis requires further study.

The objective of the black-and-white markings has always been a mystery.

Stripes are fashionable on humans, but it turns out the pattern serves a greater objective for zebras: pest control.

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