Scientists Solve the Mystery of the Zebra Stripes

First Posted: Apr 02, 2014 02:45 PM EDT

Ever wonder why zebras look so darn fashionable with those white and black stripes? No, they're not making a statement about prison uniforms. Their chic yet customary outfit is actually used to help ward off insects, including horseflies and tsetse flies.

As previous studies have shown that such flies tend to avoid black-and-white striped surfaces, many hypothesized that the same holds true for these guys.

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of California led an investigation into the purpose of these zebra markings. The team found that many striped animals were found in common areas that are heavily populated by large numbers of tabanids, otherwise known as horse flies.

Lead study author and biologist of the university Tim Caro notes that these markings help prevent fly bites, which could cause blood loss and even spread disease.

"Biting flies are attracted to hosts by odor, temperature, vision and movement that may act at different stages during host seeking, but vision is thought to be important in the landing response," researchers said, via a press release.

Caro and his team studied patterns and locations of seven species and 20 subspecies of equines. They also mapped the native locations of these animals and plotted them against areas populated by large numbers of horse flies.

"Conversely, there is no consistent support for camouflage, predator avoidance, heat management or social interaction hypotheses," researchers note

Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallance were the first to study the issue back in 1870 over the role stripes played in the animal's evolution.

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the journal Nature Communications

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