How does the Zebra repel insects?
The Common Zebra (Equus quagga, formerly Equus burchellii) is common in the treeless plains of East Africa and southern Africa. It is an ungulate (a hoofed mammal).
The Common Zebra is like a horse or pony with short legs, and is black and white striped. The stripes continue all the way to its hooves. No two Zebras are alike, because they all have slightly different markings.
The stripes on the Zebra are said to confuse their predators – such as lions, hyenas, leopards, cheetahs, and crocodiles – during an attack.
Zebras repel insects by swishing their tail and short mane. However, Zebra stripes are also insect repellents. Insects are confused by the stripes and generally stay away from the Zebra. Scientists demonstrated this by painting cows and horses with black and white stripes to look like Zebras – and flies stayed away from them!
National Geographic magazine documented a study published in the March 2012 Journal of Experimental Biology that found that the patterns of the Zebra stripes scrambles the vision of insects, particularly the bloodsucking Horsefly. The Horsefly is also not attracted to black coloured horses – it likes mainly white and light-coloured horses. Scientists from Sweden’s Lunds University experimented with diferent types of painted stripes on models of horses to resemble Zebras, and found that Zebra stripes are the best fly repellent and the narrower the stripes, the more repellent the pattern is.
A study published in January 2019 in the Royal Society Open Science Journal by research scientists from Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary found another interesting fact about Zebras and insect repellent.
The scientists covered plastic mannequins (models) of people in different coloured paint – plain colours and striped colours – and left them outside for 4 weeks in Horsefly-infested meadows in Hungary. At the end of the experiment, they counted the number of Horseflies stuck to the glue on the plastic models.
They found fewer Horseflies on the black-and-white striped models than the other painted models – second best was light-painted models and the most Horsefly-covered models were the dark-painted models (10 times more than the striped models).
This shows that humans should wear light-coloured clothes (white or beige) to repel insects – or Zebra-striped clothes. However, people should avoid wearing reflective (shiny) material, because insects think it looks like water, which is where they lay their eggs, and are attracted to light, shiny colours.
Location of photographs: Kenya
Photographer: Martina Nicolls
Martina Nicolls: SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM