Zebra stripes
may be to deter flies, not lions

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ZEBRAS evolved their stripes to avoid disease-spreading biting flies rather than to confuse predators, a study suggests.

The stripes deter tsetse flies and horseflies by interfering with their visual homing system, scientists believe.

How the zebra got its stripes has been a long-standing riddle not even solved in Rudyard Kipling’s famous Just So stories.

Theories have involved camouflage, tricking predators into misjudging the speed or size of their prey, reducing overheating and social behaviour. For the new study, a team of US scientists looked at the regional distribution of seven different species of zebras and wild horses, some of which are striped and some not.

They then compared the animals’ geographic ranges with a number of variables including predator territories and the presence or absence of tsetse flies and tabanids, or horseflies.