The Debate over Zebra’s Stripes

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Great Biologists, including Charles Darwin, are scratching their heads over deciding the answer to burning question of, why zebras have their black-and-white stripes. Scientists over the decades have given various explanations that include confusing predators and preventing biting flies. All these explanations show that the stripes serve a complex mix of purpose. A new research report in the journal Royal Society Open Science claim that the Zebra’s stripes closely correlate with precipitation and temperature in the animal’s environment.

This new analysis, conducted by researchers based at University of California (UCLA), was carried on plains Zebra, which is the most common species of Zebra, located from Ethiopia to South Africa. The research was conducted at 16 different sites and the findings indicate that the torso stripes may help Zebras to regulate their body temperature than to avoid predators or flies. Earlier, scientists raised the question of why Zebras were so special to have stripes that camouflage them from predators. In fact, they were of the opinion that the bold black and white stripes gives a highly noticeable appeal among more drab looking animals like buffalo or antelope, in a plain savannah backdrop.

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UCLA researchers have said most of animals spending their time in hot, mid-day sun need some system to regulate body temperature. However, Zebras specially benefit from an extra cooling system like the stripes because of the all other grazing animals in Africa, Zebras digests food much less efficiently. They need to stay longer periods in the sun, creasing more food. So, the stripes are said to provide an additional cooling mechanism for them to stay in hot temperature. The research team has also found clearly outlined torso stripes in the Northern, equatorial region, whereas Zebras living in Southern, cooler regions had less defined torso stripes. According to researchers this finding seems to firmly support the body temperature theory.

Tsetse fly (left) and Horse fly

Tsetse fly (left) and Horse fly

Nevertheless, many biologists don’t think stripes can actually create such cooling mechanism. Biologists who debate over the thermo-regulation theory enunciated that the warmer regions are susceptible to several species of disease-carrying flies (other than tsetse flies) and so the relationship the research showcased may be closely related to fly avoidance rather than temperature. Flies mostly find it difficult to recognize the striped surfaces. Even the authors who conducted the UCLA study have emphasized the need for doing follow-up researches on the multi-purpose Zebra stripes.

As of now, many factors seem to have involved in the evolution of Zebra’s stripes. Although the stripes are colored black-and-white, there’s no easy black and white description behind its existence.

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  • I also thought this new theory about the zebra stripes being a cooling mechanism to be really interesting. Then, why aren;t more animals who live in the hot areas striped? Anyway, interesting age that we live in!