There has been a debate raging between scientists for decades -- why do
zebras have stripes. Are they meant to blend with the tall grasses to
confuse lions? Are they meant to attract just the right mate? Maybe even
some way to regulate body temperature? The real answer came out this week in the journal Nature Communications -- and it does have to do with a sense of confusion, but not for the lions.
Scientists have finally pitted each possibility against one another and believe they have come up with a definitive answer. The study leader, Tim Caro, a biologist at the University of California, Davis and his colleagues found that the evidence clearly pointed in one direction. The winner is an odd one -- the stripes are apparently there to confuse and repel the bloodsucking, parasitic flies that share the zebras' habitat.
A variety of data were entered into a statistical model, including the range of the zebras, predators, the presence of forests, and other environmental factors, that could have an impact on the likelihood of this particular equine evolving to have stripes.
So is this the final, definitive answer on the zebra's stripes? Hardly. This is a far more complex issue than is likely to be answered quite so easily. The real answer may be one that incorporates all of these theories to one extent or another. Also, scientists in the field have yet to observe the evidence of biting flies being deterred. That is the next step.
This is just the current most likely reason that zebras have stripes. For many, the debate continues.