Among the animals with an artistic appearance, the zebra occupies a special place. Doesn’t it look like something straight out of an abstract art canvas? But behind the surface are actually a variety of functions and meanings.
Black on white or white on black?
First of all, how should we approach the question? Do you know how to answer the following question? Is the zebra black striped with white or white striped with black? Nature accustoms us to black stripes. So why would the zebra escape it? Well, this animal is original: zebras are black equines with white stripes! This is the conclusion of a very serious study on embryonic development in zebras. The animal’s skin is dark at first, white streaks only appear later. This occurs between the third and fifth weeks of gestation. The skin becomes discolored due to the inhibition of the gene necessary for the production of melanin, the pigment coloring the coat a dark color. The study of a subspecies of zebra extinct since the 19th century, Equus quagga quagga, confirms this: its rump was dark, the stripes being present only at the front of its body.
Why is the zebra striped?
But why these stripes, exactly? Is this a joke from Mother Nature? It’s not knowing her well to imagine that she could show humor… Natural selection always has a good reason to conserve characteristics: it must serve the survival of the species!
But finding a valid reason is not so easy. And explaining why the zebra wears stripes is far from obvious… So, researchers use their imagination to find hypotheses to test.
Several theories have been proposed over time. A popular idea is that they are a protection against predators. Indeed, the stripes could create a sort of optical illusion when a group of zebras run together, making it difficult for a predator like the lion to target a particular individual.
But other hypotheses are current. Among them, the idea that stripes could play a role in thermal regulation. The black and white stripes would absorb heat differently, creating air currents that would cool the zebra.
Other, more recent studies have indicated that stripes help repel insects, such as tsetse flies, which are less attracted to striped surfaces.
Finally, researchers wondered if the zebra’s stripes did not have a social function, the patterns formed by the stripes being unique to each zebra. Perhaps this could help animals recognize each other?
Finally, you arrive at the end of this article without a real answer because the question is so complex. It is possible that all of these assumptions are valid. But only the future and further research will be able to confirm or not these leads.
Regardless, zebra stripes are fascinating patterns that continue to captivate and inspire, and serve as a reminder that even the simplest aspects of nature can hide deep and intriguing secrets.