People Are Dressing Horses As Zebras To Solve An Age-Old Scientific Mystery

Zebras are seen at the Nairobi National Park near Nairobi Kenya

An worldwide research team has explored the issue further, seeking to discover what it is about the stripes that actually disrupts a biting fly's ability to land on a zebra and suck its blood? In a new study, researchers at the University of California Davis performed a series of experiments that investigated how stripes altered the behavior of biting insects. Just as before, when horses wore coats with striped patterns, they experienced fewer horse fly landings. Their study shows that stripes don't deter horse flies from a distance, with both zebras and domestic horses experiencing the same rate of circling from the flies. But once the flies got closer to the zebras, stripes did seem to interfere with their ability to hone in on the source of their intended snack.

"Stripes may dazzle flies in some way once they are close enough to see them with their low-resolution eyes", said co-author Martin How of the University of Bristol.

This does not happen with domestic horses, which are without stripes. Today, many scientists believe that the black-and-white stripes actually function as a fly repellant, but because it's hard to get close to wild zebras, it hasn't been clear how the pattern might deter the pesky critters from landing on the animals and taking a bite.

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Scientists have proposed more than a dozen ideas to explain why zebras evolved stripes.

When horses were dressed in stripy "zebra coats" the flies made far fewer landings on the striped areas but were not kept away from the uncovered head, the research - reported in the journal Public Library of Science ONE - found. However, their analysis also showed differences in flies' approach speeds between horses and zebras. Perhaps the animals' signature coats help them camouflage, facilitate social signalling, or keep zebras cool. Scientists finally (probably) figured out why zebras have stripes. (2019) Benefits of zebra stripes: Behaviour of tabanid flies around zebras and horses.

Researchers on Wednesday described experiments demonstrating that horse flies have a hard time landing on zebras while easily landing on uniformly colored horses. Zebras swish their tails nearly continuously during the day to keep flies off; they stop feeding if bothered by them; and if the flies are particularly persistent, the zebras will run from them. While horses are more low-key about the presence of flies, merely twitching and occasionally swishing their tails to ward off the insects, zebras are far less tolerant.

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