Zebra Study: Why Zebras Have Black And White Stripes: New Study Says Not For Camouflage
A new study done by the University of Calgary and UC Davis has led to some new thoughts on the purpose of Zebra stripes. The general thought has always been the stripes were used for camouflage, but it turns out that might not be the case.
“The most longstanding hypothesis for zebra striping is crypsis, or camouflaging, but until now the question has always been framed through human eyes,” said the study’s lead author, Amanda Melin, an assistant professor of biological anthropology at the University of Calgary, Canada.
“We, instead, carried out a series of calculations through which we were able to estimate the distances at which lions and spotted hyenas, as well as zebras, can see zebra stripes under daylight, twilight, or during a moonless night.
Past thoughts and studies on zebra stripes were based on what humans see, but Amanda Melin, an assistant professor of biological anthropology at the University of Calgary, Canada has decided to look at these stripes from a new view. Using careful calculations, the study looked at the zebra stripes from distances lions would use in daylight, twilight and moonless nights. It turned out that the stripes would not help hide the zebra by breaking up the outline, by the time lions were close enough to actually see the stripes, they would have already heard and smelled the zebra.
“The results from this new study provide no support at all for the idea that the zebra’s stripes provide some type of anti-predator camouflaging effect,” Caro said. “Instead, we reject this long-standing hypothesis that was debated by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace.”
Discrediting this study has helped put more weight behind some earlier findings Meline concluded when she conducted a study with Tim Caro, a UC Davis professor of Wildlife biology. In their previous study, they were able to find evidence that suggested the stripes might simply be there to help discourage biting flies, which are a natural pest to zebras.
Funding for the study was provided by the Wenner Gren Foundation, the National Sciences and Research Council of Canada, the National Geographic Society and UC Davis.
The zebra stripes study will be published Friday, Jan. 22, in the journal PLOS ONE.