Remember when you were a kid, and you asked why zebras had stripes? Your parents/guardian probably told you that they were for camouflage, and you looked at them skeptically, unable to imagine a realistic scenario when the black and white stripes would help the zebra hide in the savannah. As it turns out, you weren’t the only one finding that hard to believe, so a team of scientists just proved that their stripes don’t help camouflage zebras.
- Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace believed that zebras had their stripes for camouflage
- A team of scientists from the United States and Canada were behind the research
- The study was published in the journal PlosOne
- Using their knowledge and computer simulations, the team recreated lion and hyena sight
- The predators would smell the zebras if they were to try to stay camouflaged
It’s true – the iconic symbol of the zebra doesn’t serve the purpose everyone thought it would.
It has long been debated what the true purpose of the zebras’ stripes was, as it seemed quite unlikely that they used their stripes to stay hidden in their environment.
Despite it being unlikely, multiple respectable parties were supporters of the camouflage theory, including everyone favorite Galapagos turtle killer, Charles Darwin.
So because of the century long controversy, a team of scientists from the United States and Canada decided to put the theory to the test.
The team managed to recreate, using their knowledge on the matter, as well as advanced computers to recreate the way in which a zebra is seen by lions and hyenas (two of their main predators) during three different light “settings” – daylight, twilight, and moonless night.
This led them to determine that the big felines would be able to detect the zebras during twilight from 98 feet away, and during a moonless night from 29 feet away.
While that is a feat of its own for both the zebra and the lion (one for staying unnoticed so long, and the other for seeing so well), the researchers determined that the African equid would be detected by the predator’s nose long before it can see it.
Additionally, the team also proved that not even zebras themselves can distinguish between a striped and a solid pattern from a distance.
The research does not actually prove that stripes aren’t used for camouflage, only that they are not very good at it.
However, the team did disprove the notion that they might serve a social function, as the zebras don’t seem to notice the stripes either.
Image source: Wikimedia