Well, it turns out that zebras are NOT referees at the horse games as my five year old thinks. In fact, the patterns of the black and white stripes on a zebra are an evolutionary adaptation that has benefits for the animals. Several different and plausible hypotheses have been proposed for the reason behind the stripes ever since Darwin first came on the scene. Even he puzzled over the significance of the stripes. Over the years, different scientists have suggested the stripes could either be to help camouflage the zebras or confuse predators. Other ideas were to lower body temperature, repel insects, or to help them socialize with one another.
A new study, done by Tim Caro and his team from the University of California, Davis, pitted all of these hypotheses against each other and studied the statistics and data gathered. Remarkably, the statistical analysis showed over and over again that the most likely explanation for the stripes was to keep flies from biting the zebras. Although the statistical research is sound, many scientists are careful about declaring that hypothesis the winner until more specific research can be done.
Photo by Peter Maas