Zebra stripes explainedEntertainment, Featured Tuesday, December 17th, 2013
Scientists have finally figured out the purpose of the zebra’s black and white stripes. According to a study done by a group of researchers from the University of Queensland Australia, the stripes are meant to conceal the movements of the animals.
Although the zebra’s striking black and white coat does not camouflage it against its background, scientists say that the stripes have a dazzling effect on predators. Technology has helped researchers confirm that the lines, as well as, the movement of the animals create optical illusions that could confuse predators. The findings were recently published in the journal Zoology.
“Zebra stripes have long confused evolutionary biologists, right back to Darwin and Wallace,” says Dr.Martin How, lead author of the publication.
“Previous theories for the function of these stripes include social communication signals, camouflage at dusk or dawn in grassy habitats, and the so-called ‘dazzle’ effect when being pursued by predators or blood sucking insects,” he added.
Many animals, including man, have ‘motion detection mechanisms’ – neural circuits which understand the direction in which something moves based on the appearance of its contours. Optical illusions however can confuse this mechanism and this is what the zebra’s stripes do.
Dr.How explains that the broad diagonal stripes on a zebra’s flank and the narrower vertical stripes on its back and neck give unexpected motion signals that confuse viewers, particularly in a herd of zebras.
“We suggest that these illusions cause pests and predators to mistake the zebra’s movement direction, causing biting insects to abort their landing manoeuvres and chasing predators to mistime their attacks,” he says.
The research findings are believed to be able to help better understand how similar camouflaging techniques maybe used in man-made situations.