Nav: Home

Zebra stripes are not good landing strips

February 20, 2019

The stripes of a zebra deter horse flies from landing on them, according to a new study published February 20, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS One by Tim Caro of the University of California Davis, Martin How of the University of Bristol, and colleagues.

Zebra stripes have been posited to provide camouflage, visually confuse predators, signal to other zebras, or help control heat gain, but none of these hypotheses have withstood rigorous experimentation. An alternative, that stripes somehow reduce the likelihood of being bitten by predatory flies, has gained adherents, but the mechanism has been unclear.

In the new study, the authors compared behavior of horse flies as they attempted to prey on zebras and uniformly colored horses held in similar enclosures. Flies circled and touched horses and zebras at similar rates, but actually landed on zebras less than one-quarter as often. When horses wore a striped, black or white coat, flies landed far less often on the striped coat, but just as often on the uncovered head. The authors found that while flies decelerated prior to landing on horses, they approached zebras at a faster clip and failed to slow down as they closed the distance, often bumping into the zebra before flying away again.

Additionally, zebras were at greater pains to keep flies off through tail swishing and running away.

Taken together, these results indicate that stripes do not deter flies from approaching zebras, but do prevent effective landing, and thus, reduce the number of flies successfully feeding. This finding provides further support for the hypothesis that the evolutionary benefit of zebra stripes is to reduce biting by predatory flies.

The authors add: "Zebra stripes are now believed to have evolved to thwart attack by biting flies. We observed and filmed the behaviour of horse flies near captive zebras and horses and found that flies failed to decelerate close to stripes preventing controlled landings. Combined with zebras' anti-parasite behavior, few flies landed successfully or probed their hosts for blood."
-end-
In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0210831

Citation: Caro T, Argueta Y, Briolat ES, Bruggink J, Kasprowsky M, Lake J, et al. (2019) Benefits of zebra stripes: Behaviour of tabanid flies around zebras and horses. PLoS ONE 14(2): e0210831. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0210831

Funding: TC was funded by the University of California, Davis; MH by the Royal Society.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

PLOS

Related Horses Articles:

Most modern horses are descendants of recently imported oriental stallions
Researchers who have analyzed the Y chromosomes of more than 50 horses representing 21 breeds have found that the paternal lines of nearly all modern horses trace to stallions brought to Europe from the Orient over the last 700 years.
Horses masticate similarly to ruminants
In contrast to ruminants, horses chew their food only once -- but with the same regu-lar, rhythmic movements as cows, who ruminate their food after eating, as demon-strated by researchers at the University of Zurich and the ETH Zurich.
How domestication altered the genome of ancient horses
Analyses of 14 ancient horse genomes reveal the significant selective pressures domestication put on these animals, and highlight a relatively recent loss in their genetic diversity.
Can aromatherapy calm competition horses?
Although studies suggest that inhaling certain scents may reduce stress in humans, aromatherapy is relatively unexplored in veterinary medicine.
Researchers find positive long-term colic surgery results in horses
Many horse owners and equine veterinarians find themselves facing a difficult decision when it comes to treating a horse surgically for colic, with concerns including postoperative performance and expense.
Climate change responsible for the great diversity in horses
Changing environments and ecosystems were driving the evolution of horses over the past 20 million years.
Ancient horse fossils hint factors driving evolution different than thought
A new study analyzing the evolution of horses suggests that patterns of migration and changes in environment drive the development of new traits, countering a theory called rapid phenotypic evolution that proposes the opposite -- that is, that development of traits is what allows a species to take over new niches.
When horses are in trouble they ask humans for help
A new study demonstrates that when horses face unsolvable problems they use visual and tactile signals to get human attention and ask for help.
Management of feral horses an ongoing challenge in the United States
Feral horses are free-ranging descendants of once-domesticated horses. All free-ranging horses in North America are feral horses, and between 2014 and 2015 the feral horse population in the United States increased 18 percent according to the Bureau of Land Management.
Ancient DNA evidence traces origin of horses' smooth ride
Ambling horses are particularly prized for their ability to travel in a way that's comfortable for riders, with a smooth, four-beat rhythm.

Related Horses Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Setbacks
Failure can feel lonely and final. But can we learn from failure, even reframe it, to feel more like a temporary setback? This hour, TED speakers on changing a crushing defeat into a stepping stone. Guests include entrepreneur Leticia Gasca, psychology professor Alison Ledgerwood, astronomer Phil Plait, former professional athlete Charly Haversat, and UPS training manager Jon Bowers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".