Striped Cow, Tomoki Kojima/Plos One

Striped Cow Tomoki Kojima/Plos One


Scientists have been debating why zebras have stripes for hundreds of years. Some propose the stripes have a thermo-regulatory purpose. Others say the stripes evolved to confuse predators.  This latter theory is close to at least one proven theory: zebras get fewer mosquito bites that other mammals in the same geographical areas.

This theory, called 'motion camoflage,' was studied by researchers in Australia and the UK in 2014. They wrote that the two coat patterns on the zebra could confuse the mosquito as, in motion, the stripes might produce both 'a wagon wheel effect' and  'a barber pole illusion' to the mosquito at the same time. This might be true, they hypothesized, for even "mammalian predators during a hunt, particularly when two or more zebras are observed moving together as a herd." If you think about a wagon wheel and a barber pole illusion occuring together, that would certainly be confusing, even to humans.


Zebra Botswana by Paul Maritz

Zebra Botswana by Paul Maritz via


Biting flies do considerable damage to cattle and you might say they are the bane of a cow's existence. Recently, Japanese researchers decided to see if painting stripes on cowswould result in fewer fly and other insect bites.

They had a control group of two unpainted cows, a test group of two cows painted with black stripes, and another test group of two cows painted with white stripes (see top photo). The researchers recorded fly-repelling behaviors including head throws, ear beats, leg stamps, skin twitches, and tail flicks, all fly flicking behaviors. "Photo images of the right side of each cow were taken using a commercial digital camera after every observation and biting flies on the body and each leg were counted from the photo images." via

Just like zebras, the white striped cows were attacked at least 50 percent fewer times than the black striped and unpainted cows. 


White stripe cows vs. unstriped cows

Tomoki Kojima/Plos One


The researchers concluded: "These results thus suggest that painting black-and-white stripes on livestock such as cattle can prevent biting fly attacks and provide an alternative method of defending livestock against biting flies without using pesticides in animal production, thereby proposing a solution for the problem of pesticide resistance in the environment."

So, if in the future, you see a black and white striped cow, it is because, in at least one way, a cow can be more like a zebra!


sources: Plos OneScience DirectNCBI via CNET


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