An global 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 paper published in PLOS One, a team of scientists explains how a new experiment may hint at the real reason for zebra stripes. The study, led by the University of California, Davis, focused on why zebra stripes are so good at warding off biting flies.
Their new study has shown 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. How rubbish does a horse look when you dress it up as a zebra?
"Horse flies just seem to fly over zebra stripes or bump into them, but this didn't happen with horses".
Horse-flies are an annoying and widespread problem for domestic animals, but researchers believe this problem could be solved with anti-fly coats which resemble zebra stripes.
Researchers at Bristol University used video analysis to test whether flies were more likely to attack zebra or non-striped horses at a stables in North Somerset.
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More recent research has suggested that somehow the stripes reduce the chances of a zebra being bitten by flies.
Video footage showed that striped affected the way flies landed, with the confusing "landing strip" forcing them to crash or abort landing altogether.
When solid-colored horses were dressed in the "zebra coats" the flies made far fewer landings on the patterned areas, but still landed on the uncovered, non-striped head. Perhaps the animals' signature coats help them camouflage, facilitate social signalling, or keep zebras cool.
In contrast domestic horses chiefly twitch to flick away flies and only occasionally swish their tails.
The experiment involved three zebras and nine horses with uniformly white, black, grey or brown coats. Consequently, any horse flies that did successfully land on zebras spent less time there compared to those landing on horses, with few staying long enough to probe for a blood meal.
African horse flies carry diseases such as trypanosomiasis and African horse sickness that cause wasting and can be fatal. The zebra swished tails nearly continuously to ward off flies, while horses primarily twitch and occasionally swish tails to ward off flies. Now, a new study suggests that the stripes may have a different objective entirely.