A theory on Zebra stripes has been revealed. Scientists have conducted a new experiment to solve a long-standing mystery: why do zebras have stripes? Their study suggests that the stripes would be used as a mechanism that allows the zebra to cool its body.
White, black, white, black, the pattern seems simple. Yet, it is at the origin of a biological mystery that has baffled scientists for decades: why do zebras have stripes? Over the course of multiple studies, several theories have been proposed but none seemed to definitively solve the case. At least so far.
In a recent study titled “Do zebra stripes influence thermoregulation?“, amateur naturalist Alison Cobb and her zoologist husband, Dr. Stephen Cobb have “confirmed” the theory–using data gathered on the field in Kenya– that the stripes on the Zebras serve the very specific purpose of thermoregulating the zebra’s body.
Indeed, it was not the first time that such a theory has been proposed. Scientists have noted before that zebras living in warmer climates have more stripes than others. According to the theory, these black and white stripes would create cooling convective mini-currents flush with the skin of zebras.
The researchers also found in addition to the aforementionened function, the stripes also play a role in sweat evaporation by creating small-scale convection currents .
It’s not the first time however that a new theory has claimed to solve the mystery. Earlier this new a publication has also claimed to have found the reason behind the zebras stripes. The study published in the journal PLoS One then argued that if zebras have stripes, it is to avoid flies that love their blood.
As far as the biological function of these stripes is concerned, it is more complicated. There are currently no less than 8 different theories that have been very seriously proposed to explain the origin of this original coat.
The stripes make a “disruptive” camouflage: a group of moving zebra would function as an optical illusion, and disturb the perception of predators, especially with respect to the contours of individuals who are actually difficult to discern when they are against each other.
- The stripes serve as camouflage in tall grass (hypothesis proposed in 1867 by Alfred Wallace Russel – founder of biogeography and co-author of the theory of evolution)
- The stripes make an effective camouflage at night, especially on predators who only see in black and white.
- The stripes on the neck form an area of recognition to be groomed by the other members of the group.
- The stripes facilitate heat dissipation: the alternation of black and white could form microtourbillons of air, which would refresh the animal.
- The stripes allow individuals in a group to recognize each other.
- The stripes make zebras appear larger than they are, making it difficult for predators to “aim” them properly when they run after them.
- The stripes disrupt tsetse flies when they try to land on the animal.