**Below I have reposted something I wrote last April about zebra stripes, in light of a new study that concluded the stripes are not used for camouflage. It seems I did a similar experiment last spring 🙂 So what are they for? Read on for more hypotheses.

Originally posted on April 30, 2015:

zebra toy in grass, monochrome
If you were a color blind predator, would you spot the zebra in the tall grass?

I’ve been thinking about zebras lately (maybe because there’s a picture of one on my kitchen calendar haha) and the camouflage they have. Human eyes can easily spot the black and white against the green or dried yellow grass, but I assumed that their predators’ eyes work differently. I conducted a little experiment to photograph a toy zebra in the grass and then apply different post-processing effects to mimic what a lion might see.

yellow toned toy zebra in grass
What if a predator saw mostly yellow tones?

I was under the impression that cats saw in yellow tones, but I didn’t find any evidence to back that up. I saw a page on livescience that said feline eyes see mostly blues and grays.

blue tones, zebra toy in grass
Ok maybe blue instead of yellow

I found more information about lion eyes, which are generally color blind according to an article on howstuffworks, but looking further into the topic of zebra stripes only revealed more questions. As it turns out, scientists are not in agreement about what the stripes are actually for.

Some experts believe the stripes are for camouflage, the stripes and wave pattern helping zebras to blend in with their grassy environment. This could benefit a single zebra, and also could help a group of them because all the different stripe patterns standing near each other would make it difficult for a predator to distinguish an individual from the group, according to howstuffworks. I’m also amazed at the fact that each zebra has a unique stripe pattern, similar to our fingerprints.

Other animal scientists believe that the stripes have nothing to do with camouflage, and instead serve as a defense mechanism from disease-carrying tsetse flies. According to another article on livescience, it could be that the flies will have trouble landing on a zebra because the flies can’t see striped surfaces.

The article presents a third theory of zebra stripes, which is that the alternating black and white pattern somehow acts as a cooling system for the zebras, which spend more time out in the hot sun eating than other animals because their digestive systems are inefficient.

This article was published a few months ago and presents the leading theories and criticisms of why zebras have their stripes. It’s interesting that scientists have not come to a conclusion about this, and that it is an area of ongoing research.

Whew, who knew that some fact-checking on lion eyes would lead to such a mystery. I had always assumed that zebra stripes were camouflage, but, well, you know what they say about assuming….

The world is a fascinating place with something new to discover around every corner. Today marks the end of the A to Z Challenge. It’s been fun, and I’ve learned a lot. I hope you have, too.

zebra toy in grass
I see you!

***

I’m participating in the A to Z Challenge for the month of April. The idea is to post every day, except Sundays, and end up with one post for each letter of the alphabet. It’s a good challenge to help me to blog every day.

Advertisements