Why Zebras Have Stripes

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    Flickr User Martin Pettitt

  • Scientists may have answered the age-old question about why Zebras have stripes: it keeps away biting, disease-carrying horseflies. Experimental evidence from a research team in Hungry and Sweden found that horseflies were least attracted to the black and white striped pattern found on zebras, compared to an all dark or all white pattern.

    The researchers hypothesize that horseflies are attracted to smooth horizontal beams of light that are refracted off of water, where they can mate and lay eggs.

    “We believe that escaping biting flies, which are annoying to their hosts and transmit lethal diseases, would be a very important selection factor, which may have a much stronger effect than the benefits of striped coat patterns suggested previously,” said Lund University evolutionary ecologist Susanne Åkesson.

    The researchers don’t rule out other possibilities of why Zebra’s have stripes, as it could have other evolutionary advantages beyond horsefly deflection. The findings are detailed on February 9th in the Journal of Experimental Biology.