Written by Aashna Gayatri Nayyar- A grade 9 student.
Can you imagine a zebra without its black and white stripes? Without these stripes, which provide some style to this member of the Equidae clan, zebras would probably resemble its cousin the donkey and that might not suit the zebra’s social personality. But the zebra’s stripes have more to do than influence new glamorous fashion trends.
As we all know the zebra’s main predator is another majestic creature found in Africa, the lion. Eyes have two types or receptor cells rods as well as cones. Rods oversee the black and white vision while cones are responsible for helping us see colour. Lions eyes have a larger number of rods than cones that is why the are not able to see as much of colour as humans do thus, they can be considered colour blind.
The black and white stripes of zebras can be considered as a camouflage to help it hide from the lion. Due to the lions not being able to see the colours of the surrounding properly, the stripes help the zebras blend in with surroundings, thus making it difficult or the lion to spot the zebras. However, this theory is being debated by zoologists as studies have shown that other animals in Africa have not developed stripes to avert predators.
There are a few more theories as to why zebras have stripes. An unpopular opinion holds that one of the reasons why zebras have stripes is that when they travel together in a herds their similar stripes make them appear as one large animal. This confuses the predators, thus making it difficult for them to pick out one single animal as the day’s meal.
Two more popular theories regarding zebra stripes have something to do with tsetse flies that occupy Africa and thermoregulation. The tsetse flies are one of the most prominent species of flies in Africa. They carry diseases which can prove to be harmful to zebras. But what do stripes have to do with flies? For a reason still not known by scientists, flies do not easily recognise stripped surfaces. Hence protecting the zebra from potential diseases.
Thermoregulation (process which helps an organism maintain its body temperature) can also be one of the uses of a zebra’s stripes. While the black coloured stripes can help absorb heat and keep the zebra warm when needed, the white stripes can reflect heat and help cool the zebras down.
While all these theories make sense, scientists are still looking for one fixed answer to this question and until then the zebras can go on grazing in the Savanna with their wonderfully mysterious stripes.
Here’s an interesting fact: No two zebra’s stripes are the same pattern- just like no two human fingerprints are the same!
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