P6 students should be in the middle of studying Adaptations in Science lessons right about now. In this topic, they learn that animals and plants have adapted themselves in many ways to the environment around them.

If we asked why zebras have stripes, some would probably say that it’s a defence mechanism because the resulting optical illusion confuses predators or that it acts as a means of camouflage. Yet others would say that like the skunk, the zebra’s stripes advertise danger to would be predators.

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(Free image from pixabay.com)

Tim Caro, an evolutionary biologist (to put it simply, one who studies changes in plants and animals over time) spent more than 10 years trying to uncover the actual reason why zebras have stripes. He painstakingly put different hypotheses to the test and found very little convincing evidence to support existing hypotheses.  Now, Caro believes that he has hit upon the actual reason – the striped surface of the zebra deters biting flies from feeding on them simply because the flies are repulsed by (do not like) black and white surfaces. He put this hypothesis through many different tests and saw a positive effect on each one.

We hope we have piqued your curiosity about animal adaptations. If you would like to find out more about Tim Caro’s research or his book Zebra Stripes you can visit :

http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2014/04/01/zebras-stripes-evolution-animals-science/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2017/01/04/to-figure-out-why-the-zebra-got-its-stripes-this-researcher-dressed-up-like-one/?utm_term=.a5d2d856eab8

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/books/review-zebra-stripes-tim-caro-university-of-chicago-press

Another study led by Brenda Larison from the University of California, Los Angeles also examined how a zebra’s stripes help it stay away from the damaging effects of biting flies. She also tested another theory of how a zebra’ stripes help it to stay cool. The hypothesis is that it helps to cool the animal during the hottest part of the day. Basically, the temperature difference between the white stripes that reflect heat during the day and the black stripes that absorb heat created a convection current which in turn resulted in a cooling breeze for the animal.You can read more here :

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/01/150113-zebras-stripes-evolution-animals-science-africa/

If your next question as a budding scientist is why these flies do not like black and white surfaces, good for you! Caro is now on a quest to find out the answer to that very question.

Are you still hungry for more information? If you want to know what a team of scientists recently uncovered about the link between zebra stripes and camouflage, you can visit :

https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/zebra-stripes-not-camouflage-new-study-finds/

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