Zebra Stripes Confuse Biting Insects

August 24, 2020 at 9:00 am 1 comment

Spending time outdoors can be a lot of fun but what aren’t fun are biting insects! Flies and mosquitoes are a pain whether you’re hiking or chilling in your backyard. The good news is that science might finally have an answer.

Scientists have long wondered why zebras have stripes. Theories ranged from camouflage to keeping the animals cool—but all of these ideas lacked actual scientific evidence. Finally, a new theory emerged based on the ranges of zebras and biting flies. Biting flies were found in the exact same spots as zebras and scientists began to wonder if the stripes helped prevent bites (and therefore the diseases the flies spread).

To test the new theory, researchers studied zebras and horses in pastures. Some of the horses were given coats with zebra stripes and, as a control, some of the horses were instead given solid black or solid white coats. All of the animals attracted the same number of flies, but scientists noticed something interesting. Although biting flies were just as attracted to striped animals when compared to horses with no stripes, the flies had trouble landing. They either crashed into the stripes or overshot—resulting in less bites overall. This helped confirm the theory that zebra stripes evolved as a way to prevent potentially deadly insect bites.

The takeaway? Next time you’re heading to the great outdoors, try striped clothing. It might very well confuse biting insects.

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Photo: Philip Bryden (cc)

Source: PLOS

Entry filed under: Animals. Tags: , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Lindy  |  August 25, 2020 at 3:58 am

    I have heard/read another plausible explanation for zebra stripes…ages ago so I have no sources. When the herd is viewed from a distance a lion (or ?) has trouble distinguishing separate animals. As long as everybody stays together they are much safer.


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