I’ve been looking through back issues of my favorite magazine, Africa Geographic, to find information about rhino poaching, and I came across a short article by Tim Jackson in the July 2011 issue that lays out some of the theories about this question.
Admit it: You’ve wondered, too—haven’t you?
A couple of things are certain: Each zebra has its own markings—and zebras are white, with black stripes. But as for why zebras have those stripes… Apparently no one knows for sure. Here are some of the theories Tim Jackson notes:
- A social “bar code”: The stripes help zebras recognize each other.
- Climate control: The dark and light stripes create “rotary breezes,” or convection currents, to help cool the zebras.
- Pest control: Tsetse flies apparently prefer other animals more than zebras, and research models have shown that models of striped animals attract fewer flies than models of black or white animals.
- Optical illusion: The stripes make zebras appear larger than they really are, which could cause predators to misjudge how close they are to the animal during a hunt.
- Dazzling: So many stripes running all over the place makes it hard for predators to pick out an individual. (By the way: A group of zebras is often called a dazzle. I wonder if this is why?)
- Social bonding: Zebras have a predisposition toward social interactions with other striped individuals—so the stripier you are, the more attention you’ll get.
Which theory seems most likely to you?