Zebra-like Body Paint Protects Skin From Bloodsucking Insects

Posted: Jan 19 2019, 7:46am CST | by , Updated: Jan 19 2019, 7:49am CST, in Latest Science News


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Zebra-like Body Paint Protects Skin From Bloodsucking Insects
Credit: Gabor Horvath

White-striped bodypaintings on brown skin have the advantageous effect of protecting against biting flies as they make skin surface less visually attractive to them.

The black and white stripes on zebra are known to protect animal from biting flies because such insects tend to avoid black-and-white striped surfaces. A new research suggests that this trick also works for indigenous tribes living in isolation.

Most of the indigenous people in Africa, Australia and Southeast Asia who paint their bodies live in areas where bloodsucking horseflies, mosquitoes or tsetse flies are abundant and can cause diseases. Researchers assumed that body-painting act as protection against these biting flies like stripes on zebra. To see if stripes painted on humans would have a similar effect, researchers painted three shop mannequins with three different colors and patterns: one with dark skin, one with lighter or beige skin, and a dark model painted with white stripes. They coated each with a thin layer of insect glue. Then they placed those models in the middle of a meadow for eight weeks in summer and counted the number of horseflies and other biting insects attracted to them.

Researchers found that dark model attracted ten times more horseflies than the striped model, while lighter model attracted twice as many as the striped one. In other words, zebra-like body paint reduced the number of potentially harmful horsefly bites by up to 10-fold.

Researchers believe that stripes can protect naked flesh of people from insect bites by disrupting the polarization of light. When the sun shines on a dark black or brown coat, polarized light is reflected. Horseflies are both sensitive and attracted to this light.

“Here we show that human traditional bodypaintings with their typical white-striped patterns on a brown body surface have the advantage of deterring blood-sucking horseflies as these patterns are unattractive to these parasitic insects." Authors wrote in the study. "In our field experiment, the model that was least attractive to horseflies was the white-striped dark model, followed by the beige model and then the dark human model."

Results also showed that male horseflies were only attracted to the dark model in a lying posture, whereas females were drawn to both models that were lying down and standing up.

“These results are in line with previous experiments in which we showed that males gravitate towards water in order to drink and land on surfaces that reflect horizontal, linear polarized light, such as signals from a water surface,” said Susanne Åkesson, professor at Lund University. “Females that bite and suck blood from host animals respond to the same signals as the males, but also to light signals from in the vertical plane, such as the standing models.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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