Sunday 8 December 2019

Zebras developed stripes to stop insects bugging them

The reason behind Zebras' stripes may have been figured out, say scientists
The reason behind Zebras' stripes may have been figured out, say scientists

Miranda Prynne, London

Wearing striped clothing could help protect holidaymakers from insect bites, as this is the reason why zebras are black and white, scientists have suggested.

Researchers claimed that the zebra's markings evolved to repel insects such as horseflies and tsetse flies, which tend to avoid striped surfaces.

The scientists said the findings could help tourists in hot countries avoid being bitten, although they cautioned that the type of surface and material could alter the stripes' effectiveness.

"A T-shirt may help somewhat," said Tim Caro, professor of wildlife biology at the University of California, Davis and the study's lead author. "Certainly if you are going to buy a T-shirt, make sure the stripes are thin."

Varying explanations for zebra stripes have been proposed since Victorian naturalists debated the issue, including camouflage, heat management or some kind of social function.

The study, published in the journal 'Nature Communications', mapped seven species of zebra, horse and ass and recorded their markings. It compared the animals' geographic reach with variables such as woodland habitats, the range of predators and the numbers of ectoparasites such as tsetse flies.

The scientists found that avoiding bloodsucking flies was the most consistent explanation for zebras' marked coats.

The researchers also found that zebras were more susceptible to flies than other African animals, as their hair is shorter. Mr Caro said it was not known precisely why biting flies avoided striped surfaces. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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