The beautiful black and white zebra stripes have always intrigued scientists and researchers. They wanted to know WHY the zebras got those stripes. Different explanations were offered- camouflaging in their habitat to keep them safe, mating and even helping keep disease carrying biting insects away. Findings of a new study however suggest that the stripes evolved to help these animals stay cooler in the scorching African heat.
The study mentions that zebras in warmer regions of Africa are likely to have more number of stripes and thicker ones than their brethren in comparatively cooler parts.
Scientists from the United States and Germany studied 29 different environmental variables in Plains zebras at 16 different locations in seven countries across south and central Africa. They also gathered data on local conditions like amount of rainfall and vegetation of the area to understand which of these factors had the most profound effect on the number of stripes on zebras and their thickness.
“Our finding that the two environmental variables most closely associated with variation in striping were both temperature variables lends support to the hypothesis that striping may be related to thermoregulation”, researchers reported.
“Zebra in areas with seasonal cold temperatures are less stripy than those in areas with sustained warm temperatures,” UCLA researcher and lead study author Brenda Larison told The Huffington Post.
Larison also went on to elaborate that these amazing striped animals have to spend more time looking for food as compared to other vegetarian animals which puts them at greater risk of overheating and falling prey to the big hunters like lions out and deadly biting insects out there in the jungle. These stripes, she says, are their defense against multiple dangers.
Another researcher Tim Caro at the University of California is not convinced. “If one were trying to cool oneself, it doesn’t seem terribly sensible to have a large expanse of black hair along your back, where the sun falls on you,” he says.
The study was funded by the National Geographic Society and its findings have been published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.