Zebra stripes: fashion or functional?

You may not realise it right away, but zebras and horses are related. A big difference is in the coat. Zebras have striking black and white stripes. There is much speculation about the purpose of these stripes. Would they really repel flies? Time to find out! 


To find out whether zebra stripes repel flies, research has been done into the behaviour of tabanids (horse flies). For example, the behaviour of the fly has been observed on three captive zebras and nine domestic horses of the same coat colour. During the study, it became clear that fewer horseflies landed on the zebras than on the horses. While the number of tabanids circling the zebras or briefly touching the horses did not differ. Watching the video, it was easy to see that the flies had trouble slowing down when landing on the zebra’s stripes. 


For the second experiment, the horses were rugged; either with a dark rug, a light-coloured one or a zebra-striped rug. It was clearly evident that the horses with the zebra-striped rugs had much less trouble with tabanids touching and landing on the rugs. It can therefore be concluded that the flies had difficulty landing in a controlled manner on a striped coat. 


The answer to the question of whether zebra stripes are just a fashion thing or whether they can actually be considered functional is that they really can help keep flies away! 

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