Storytelling has always been a way of making science more relatable to people, and what better way to illustrate this than by examining the mystery of the zebra's stripes? The fact about zebra stripes is that they are one of the most enduring and intriguing natural patterns ever studied by science. The science behind it is no less fascinating.
For centuries, scientists have been trying to understand why the zebra has stripes. Some theories suggest that the stripes help the animal camouflage, while others argue that they permit zebras to regulate their body temperature. However, the most widely accepted theory posits that zebra stripes are a form of biological defense.
According to this theory, the black and white stripes of zebras deter predators such as lions, hyenas, and cheetahs by confusing their visual systems. This is due to a phenomenon known as motion dazzle, where visual signals become difficult to process when the object is moving. For predators, the zebra's stripes create a "barber pole" effect that makes it difficult to track the animal's exact movement, making them less likely to catch the zebra.
What is "barber pole" effect
The barber pole effect, also known as the Venetian blinds effect, is a visual phenomenon that occurs when a rotating object appears to be moving in a direction perpendicular to its actual motion. This effect is often seen in rotating cylinders, like a barber pole or a car wheel. As the object rotates, stripes or lines on its surface appear to move upwards or downwards, creating the illusion of motion in a different direction. The effect is often used in optical illusions and visual displays.
Coming back to our main topic.
Another fact about zebra stripes is that they are not uniform across the species. There are three species of zebras: Grevy’s, mountain, and plains. Grevy’s zebras have narrower stripes than other species, and their stripes also extend all the way down their legs. Mountain zebras have vertical stripes on their necks, which eventually turn into horizontal stripes on their bodies. And, the most common species, the plains zebra has a stripe pattern that is generally horizontal across the animal's body.
However, the science of zebra stripes is not just limited to the aesthetic aspect. Researchers have also been able to link the stripe patterns of zebras to their DNA. In 2014, a group of scientists found that the specific arrangement of genes, called KITLG, affects the stripe pattern of zebras. The researchers were able to see a correlation between certain genetic variations and striped patterns, which directly corresponds to the idea that zebra stripes offer some sort of protection from predators.
Indeed, science has been able to shine a light on one of the most awe-inspiring patterns found in the animal kingdom, and the zebra stripe is no longer just an object of beauty but a fascinating object of study. From its adaptive evolution to its biological defense, the science and facts behind zebra stripes continues to reveal new secrets with each passing year. So, the next time you see a zebra, remember that there is more to them than just their beautiful stripes.