82. Why the Stripes?

Stripes are clearly one of the zebra’s most innovative adaptations. Every pattern is unique.
Climate may have something to do with the patterns. Zoologist have found that zebras living in the cooler climates of southern Africa have stripes that are broader and farther apart than zebras living near the equator.

But why do they have stripes in the first place?
Zebra stripes are one of evolution’s great mysteries.

Over the years, scientists have suggested zebras developed stripes for camouflage in order to confuse their predators. They’ve also suggested that the stripes help lower body temperature, while some believe the striped coat evolved to repel insects.


The Bug Repellent Theory

There is some evidence to support the insect repellent theory. Using sticky plastic models with surfaces painted differently, researchers showed that zebra stripes painted onto the body can protect against biting insects. Relative to the striped mannequin, the dark brown mannequin attracted 10 times more horseflies, while the beige one lured in twice the number as the striped figure. 

Source: Mannequins with body paint, Gabor Horvath,

Researchers concluded that the stripes likely make the skin less attractive to bloodsucking horseflies. This leads scientists to support the idea that zebras developed stripes to help them avoid death by disease.


The Temperature Control Theory

A study published in June 2019 reported that biologists measured the temperatures of black and white hair stripes on zebras in Kenya. The researchers found a 12- to 15-degree-Celsius difference in temperature between the two different coat colors.

Source: Facts in Motion, Why Do Zebras Have Stripes? YouTube




In theory, the currents of air that flow over the zebra’s body are faster over the black parts and slower over the white. At the junction of these two air flows, the different speeds may create little air swirls that cool the zebra.

Raised black stripe hair on a zebra
ALISON COBB



Moreover, zebras can actually raise the black stripes separately from the white stripes. Perhaps this is their way of regulating their temperatures by adding more turbulence to the airflow over their coats.