Zebras do not use black and white stripes on their body to blend themselves in the environment and to protect from predators.
The iconic black and white stripes of zebra’s have baffled scientists over the years. They remained clueless about the actual purpose of these stripes. Now, a team of researchers is probably inching closer to unlocking the mystery.
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It has been long thought that zebras use those stripes to camouflages themselves in response to a threat. It’s a way of hiding themselves and deceiving predators. But researchers from University of Calgary and UC Davis have found that zebra stripes are not for camouflage.
“The most longstanding hypothesis for zebra striping is crypsis, or camouflaging, but until now the question has always been framed through human eyes.” Lead author Amanda Melin, an assistant professor of anthropology at University of Calgary, said.
To overcome this problem, researchers carried out an experiment. They passed digital images of zebras through spatial and color filters to find out how zebras are seen by their main predators lions and hyenas and also by zebra’s themselves. Researchers looked at the stripes under daylight, twilight and during a moonless night.
They also estimated the maximum distances from which lions and hyenas can spot a zebra in order to judge their visual capabilities. Researchers found that beyond 50 meters (about 164 feet) in daylight and 30 meters (about 98 feet) at twilight, when most predators hunt, stripes were hard for predators to distinguish but still clearly visible to humans. On moonless nights, the stripes were difficult for all species to distinguish beyond 9 meters (about 29 feet.) Since most mammals have poor visual acuity, researchers were certain that lions and hyenas can’t see stripes very far and it was proved by experiment as well.
Researchers drew the conclusion that stripes do not allow zebras to blend in with the background of their environment. At the point at which predators can see zebra’s stripes, they probably already have heard or smelled their zebra prey. Thus, it rules out the hypotheses of camouflage protection.
“The results from this new study provide no support at all for the idea that the zebra’s stripes provide some type of anti-predator camouflaging effect,” said co-author Tim Caro from US Davis. “Instead, we reject this longstanding hypothesis that was debated by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace.”
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The study was published in PLOS ONE.