DAVIS (KCBS) – A mystery of the animal kingdom that has baffled scientists for centuries may finally have been solved, according to UC Davis researchers who examined the pests that share the traditional range of the zebra.
It turns out the zebra may sport black and white stripes as a strategy to ward off flies, a not inconsequential problem considering that some flies bite hard enough to draw blood.
“If you’re ever bitten by a horse fly or a deer fly, you’ll know exactly that that’s the problem,” said Tim Caro, a UC Davis professor of conservation ecology.
“Zebras have shorter hair than other antelopes that live next door to them, like impala or buffalo, and that may make them very susceptible to having their skin penetrated by the mouth parts of these flies.”
Caro and his team arrived at their conclusion by overlaying the traditional ranges of the zebra and its related species with locations where biting flies are found.
“We plotted the geographic ranges of all the different species of horses and asses and zebras on maps of the Old World of Africa and Asia,” he said.
“Every time, we find that we get intense striping in areas where they’re really annoyed by biting flies.”