Stripes Help Keep Biting Insects At Bay

Biting insects have a difficult time landing on animals that have zebra stripes, a joint study between the University of California, Davis, and the University of Bristol in England has shown. The findings, which were published in PLOS ONE, support the hypothesis that the stripes on Africa’s three species of zebra helped deter biting insects.

Dr. Tim Caro, with UC Davis, and Dr. Martin How, with the University of Bristol, used a farm in Britain that kept both zebras and horses for the field study. The team observed the zebras as flies attempted to land on them; they also used videos to record the flight trajectory of flies that were close to the zebras. The duo then outfitted horses in all-black blankets, then all-white blankets, and finally in black-and-white striped blankets to see if there was a difference in how many flying insects landed on the animals.

The results of the study showed that flies were as attracted to zebras as they were horses, but that once the flies got close to the zebras, they tended to fly past or bump into the animals. The stripes seem to disrupt the flies landing ability.

Additionally, zebras swish their tails almost nonstop to keep flies at bay; they stop grazing and will run if the flies bother them badly enough. Horses, on the other hand, only occasionally swish flies with their tails and twitch their skin to dislodge flying insects. The bugs on the zebras were rapidly removed compared to horses.

While it is not yet known why zebras are so diligent about removing biting insects, a possible explanation could be that zebras are highly prone to infection diseases, which can be carried by African biting flies.

Read more at HorseTalk.

Read the full study here.


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