What are the theories behind why zebras have stripes?

There are several possible explanations as to why zebras have black and white stripes, but a definitive answer remains to be found.

There are a number of theories which include small variations on the same central idea, and have been divided into the main categories below.

  • Apparent size increase
  • Visibility in poor light
  • Moving stripes may
  • dazzle predators
  • Camouflage
  • Social benefits
  • Fitness indication

Protection from tsetse flies.

The areas of research involving camouflage and social benefits have many nuanced theories.

For example, social benefits covers many slight variations, including:

Zebras recognise each other on the basis of their stripes

This is especially important in the visual communication between mothers and their foals

Stripes might also be visual markers for group bonding or to direct companions to particular parts of the body for grooming.

Anti-predation is also a wide-ranging area, including camouflage and various aspects of visual confusion.

These explanations have been thoroughly discussed and criticised by scientists, but they concluded that the majority of these hypotheses are experimentally unconfirmed.

As a result, the exact cause of stripes in zebra remain unknown.

Published in Daily Times, February 22nd 2019.

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