Why Do Zebras Have Stripes?

Zebras have stripes as a possible defense mechanism against being bitten by flies, according to 2014 research from the University of California, Davis. They found that there was a higher correlation of striped animal species in areas where biting flies were the most prevalent. However, there is no evidence to demonstrate the reasoning of why exactly flies would be deterred by stripes. Zebras will not typically allow humans to be close enough to observe them in the wild, so scientists have not been able to see firsthand if flies are actively avoiding the zebras’ stripes. Other possible theories of why zebras have stripes include camouflage, social interaction, or to regulate body temperature.

More about zebras:

  • Zebras’ stripe patterns differ among the areas in which they live—the farther south in the African plains, the farther apart the stripes are on the zebras.
  • Ancient Romans are thought to have trained zebras to pull the carts for their circus performances.
  • Zebras can run up to 35 miles (56 km) per hour, and often run in zigzag-like patterns to avoid predators.
More Info: nationalgeographic.com

Discussion Comments


@Krunchyman - You know, speaking of defense mechanisms, one thing that I've always found to be very unfortunate about zebras is how vulnerable they are.

While the article does a good job at showing how their stripes might be able to get rid of flies (in spite of the lack of scientific evidence), let's not forget that zebras are still at the bottom of the food chain.

Living in the wild, they're usually a very easy target for predators. While they can run at thirty five miles per hour, it may not be enough to out run cheetahs, who are even faster than that.

However, regardless of this, I think we can all agree that this is an interesting article nonetheless. After all, not all defense mechanisms have to be "traditional" in a sense, as we can see here.

In spite of being an easy target for lions and hyenas alike, their stripes really do give them a unique distinction from other animals. I mean, before even reading these tidbits, did you even consider the possibility that their stripes are used for interaction and regulating body temperature?

Even though it's difficult to say how these stripes "work", it really shows how animals differ from us. Our way of communication (verbal) is quite different from their unique patterns and body language.

While I have always thought that zebras had stripes because that's how they were made, and it makes them more unique, this is a very interesting theory regarding their stripes.

Sometimes, when it comes to the defense mechanisms of animals, the most intriguing things is that more than often, the more obvious defense mechanisms are the least interesting, while the lesser known defense mechanisms are all the more fascinating. It's really something we don't think about much, including myself.

Using an example, even though we all know that pufferfish can expand as a means to defend themselves, sometimes they'll purposely allow themselves to be eaten, so that the enemy can be blown up from the inside out. On a final note, here's something else that's interesting about animals are their defense mechanisms.

Even the animals that seem to be completely vulnerable, know how to defend themselves. For example, did you know that dolphins are able to defend themselves from sharks?

Sometimes, if they see one coming, they'll immediately go on the defense by calling other dolphins to attack. How does this relate to the article? All in all, many animals have more defense than we think.

Post your comments
Forgot password?