Zebras Have Stripes…To Mess With Horseflies?

02.09.12 5 years ago

Zebras have, not to put too fine a point on it, been annoying biologists for years, because they can’t figure out the stripes. They make no sense. They do serve a social function, or so biologists believe, but they agree that came later. They didn’t confuse predators, they don’t offer camouflage, what the heck are they for?

Insect defense!

A team in Budapest painted trays with different black and white patterns, inspired by research showing tsetse flies attack striped animals the least. They covered them in salad oil to trap flies, and unleashed the nipping little insects.

The trays with stripes most closely resembling a zebra’s attracted the least flies. Why? The stripes are confusing to the horseflies, making it hard for them to land, and also disrupt polarized light, which is how horseflies tend to navigate.

Finally, a mystery of biology solved. Now if only science could determine why that awful movie “Racing Stripes” got made.

image via Shutterstock

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