New Study Suggests the Reasons for Zebra Stripes are Not So Black and White

| by Kendal Mitchell

A new scientific study provides a clearer insight into the possible reasons behind zebra’s stripes.

This study published in the Royal Society Open Science, the Royal Society's peer-reviewed journal, found a correlation between temperature and the number of stripes on a given zebra, said Brenda Larison, the study's co-author.

Larison said temperature could help explain the effects of temperature on black and white stripes in two ways, according to ABC News.

The first proposal, called the “cooling eddy theory,” suggests that the airflows coming off the black and white stripes differ because heat rises from the two colors at different speeds.

The color white reflects more sunlight than the color black, which in turn affects how fast or slow heat rises from a particular section of fur.

Researchers in the study also said the relationship between temperature and stripe patterns could negatively affect the rate in which pests, like tsetse flies, bite.

Airflows coming off the different-colored sections of zebra fur create cool pockets of air that discourage biting insects that prefer heat, according to the study. Thus, the higher the temperature, the more stripes a zebra has.

This study looked specifically at the relationship between stripes and 29 different environmental factors, at 16 different wildlife sites in central and southern Africa. Researchers said they decided to study zebras that live on the African plains because they are the most common of the species.

Before the publication of this study, researchers proposed four hypotheses to explain the evolution of zebras’ black and white stripes.  The common theories for the distinct coloring are to confuse predators, to regulate the animal’s temperature, to help zebras identify one another, and to misdirect biting flies.

Larison said she thinks her study differs from others because she looked at the correlation among all the theories and tested them at once.

“We made an effort to throw some of these ideas against each other,” Larison said. 

Source: ABC News 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons