Why Do Zebras Have Stripes? How stripes protect zebras

Zebras are probably the easiest animals to recognize because of their black and white stripe patterns. It is the stripes that make zebras stand out from all the other animals, and are such a joy to see.

zebras eating grass

The question of whether zebras are black with white stripes, or white with black stripes has puzzled many people for hundreds of years.

In this article, we'll look at the facts surrounding the stripes of a zebra, as well as the role these stripes play in the zebra's livelihood.

Why do Zebras have Stripes?

zebras craddling foal

The Stripes of a Zebra are helpful in protecting the animal from flies, the hot sun, as well as confusing predators.

There are 6 theories as to why zebras have stripes. The theories on predator confusion, thermoregulation and fly protection are quite popular and widely accepted. We take a brief look at each of them.

1. Predator Confusion.

Stripes help confuse a zebra's predators by making it hard to separate individuals in a group and making it hard for the predator to follow a clear target in a chase.

Stripes help zebras survive in areas that have lions, leopards and other predators.

zebras in maasai mara

2. Thermoregulation.

Stripes help a zebra to regulate its body temperature. The black furs absorb/trap heat whereas the white stripes reflect it for cooling.

During the hot periods of the day, the black hair transfers heat from the skin to the surface. In the cooler morning or evening, the black hairs raise and trap air to prevent heat loss.

3. Fly Protection.

A zebra's stripes help in deterring biting flies that spread diseases. Flies and insects are less likely to land on black and white striped surfaces because the stripes reflect contrasting light patterns.

Are Zebra stripes black, or white?

The question about the colour of zebras stripes is now settled.

resting zebras

Zebras are black and have white stripes. The white colour of the belly and inside legs might lead one to believe that zebras are white, with black stripes but that is false.

If a zebra was to be completely shaved off its fur, the skin underneath would be completely black and unrecognisable as a zebra. 

Tiger Stripes v Zebra Stripes

The major difference between the stripes of a tiger and those of a zebra is in the background of the stripes. When a zebra's fur is removed, the skin is completely black, whereas the stripes of the tiger extend to its skin and can easily be seen after removing the fur.

The most obvious difference between the stripes of a zebra and a tiger is the colour. Zebras have white stripes, while the stripes of a tiger vary in colour from pure black to light brown.

Final Thoughts

Zebras are beautiful animals whose stripes make them a favourite animal for many people. To us, the stripes on a zebra are a true fashion statement that we love, to a zebra stripes are protection and livelihood.

By protecting the zebra from small and big predators, as well as the scalding savannah sun, stripes are of crucial importance.

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