Biologists have figured out exactly how stripes protect zebras from horseflies

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(ORDO NEWS) — It has long been known that the striped pattern, for some reason, repels horseflies. Now scientists have figured out what insects find unpleasant in the color of the zebra.

In recent years, a lot of evidence has accumulated that the unusual striped coloration of zebras is primarily a “mosquito suit”.

Of course, it still confuses predators, and serves for intraspecific communication, but this is more likely in the second place, “in between times”.

Using striped and plain targets in experiments, the researchers found that horseflies, flies and other insects avoid landing on objects with a contrasting color.

But until now, no one knew what exactly scared them away.

To find out in detail, researchers from the University of Bristol (UK) used contrastingly colored blankets thrown over ordinary horses, after which they recorded the number and behavior of approaching insects.

The blankets differed in color, pattern, contrast, size of spots and stripes.

It turned out that the insects landed on plain gray blankets (used for control) most often, a little less often they landed on the backs of horses under blankets with large triangles, and less often they were attracted by small spots and stripes.

It also turned out that the more contrast the pattern was, the more effective the “mosquito suit” worked, but the pale stripes more often became a landing site for flies.

In other words, it was the contrasting and rather small pattern that turned out to be the key to the protective work of the striped color.

It is curious that the insects flew up to the horses in striped or plaid blankets, but did not sit on them.

That is, the contrasting coloring did not prevent them from noticing a potential target, but it was confusing during landing.

By the way, the checkered pattern in this regard turned out to be no less effective than the striped one.

At the same time, scientists have not found evidence that the striped pattern on the skin of zebras creates optical illusions, such as the “wheel effect” (in which a fast-moving striped object looks stationary or moving in the opposite direction), or reflects polarized light differently, interfering with insects to land.

Now the researchers plan to find out exactly why zebras developed this bizarre coloration that gives them their unique appearance.

Perhaps, scientists suggest, it’s the short coat of zebras and their thin skin, which make animals especially vulnerable to bites.

Or that diseases carried by blood-sucking insects are more dangerous for zebras than for other African ungulates.


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