Water & Nature – Why do Zebras have Stripes?

Water & Nature – Why do Zebras have Stripes?
I was wandering through the dreaded social media the other day and I saw an absolutely beautiful black and white (ha) photo of zebras drinking at a water hole that an acquaintance had taken whilst on tour in Namibia.

Those who are into photography will know that shooting black and white photos can be the hardest photos to take. What spectacular contrasts we may see with the naked eye as being stark and edgy invariably result in dull as dishwater images when shot in black and white. Anyhow, it was while I was looking at this photo (not the one above, by the by) thinking about how amazing zebra photos look especially in black and white that I started thinking about why it is that zebras are stripy and most other African wildlife aren’t?

It’s apparently not to do with camouflage, as I believed it was, but for something else.

There are one or two new theories:

Cooling effect

One is the ‘cooling eddy’ theory. When air hits a zebra, the currents are stronger and faster over the black parts (since black absorbs more heat than white) and slower over the white. At the juncture of these two opposing airflows, little eddies of air may swirl and serve to cool a zebra’s skin.

No landing zone for disease carrying critters

The other idea holds that more stripes may be a barrier against disease, since disease-carrying biting flies, like horseflies, tend to like it hot. Experiments in the field have shown that biting flies don’t like landing on striped surfaces.

Whatever the reason, it’s such a nice thought that nature, once again, shows us humanoids how beating the heat is done. Sadly, despite my request, it seems unlikely that we’ll be introducing zebra striped water coolers any soon. Management snorted when I asked and then (rather snidely I thought) suggested that if I were so into zebra stripes I could always wear my own stripes to the office, as long as I didn’t pitch up wearing my summer zebra striped onesie.


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