Solving the mystery of a zebra’s stripes

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

zebra
A zebra’s stripes confuses flies and makes it harder for them to navigate.

Animals often have some sort of pattern on their skin or fur to protect them, but when it comes to zebras and their stripes, researchers have always been puzzled. Are stripes a way to keep cool in hot temperatures? Do they confuse the eyes of hungry lions? Or, might the wacky patterns impress potential romantic partners? Apparently, none of the above, because more recent evidence shows those stripes are meant to repel blood-sucking, disease-carrying flies!

See, researchers discovered that nasty vampire flies are attracted to shadowy surfaces, and while they don’t mind landing on bright ones, they definitely don’t like them. You know, kind of like how vampires in the movies don’t like sunlight! Then, when both dark and light are mixed together – like the stripes of a zebra – the blood-suckers get mega confused and actually have trouble flying. Whoa.

Scientists tested this fly-confusion theory by analyzing zebra and fly populations on two different maps. One map showed the various regions where striped and non-striped animals roam around. The other map highlighted areas that are heavily populated by the flies that love to bite. After comparing both maps, researchers discovered that the areas with very aggressive files also contained zebras with larger numbers of stripes on their body. You know, to really spook those tiny vampires!

Now, the only thing left to find out is: are zebras black, with white stripes, or are they white, with black stripes? Talk about a brainteaser…

Featured image courtesy of Eric Kilby on Flickr. Image of zebras courtesy of Dimitry B on Flickr.