Scientists have come up with another explanation for why zebras have stripes

Scientists are trying to work out why zebras are stripy (Picture: PA)

It’s an age-old question, but scientists have come up with one reason for why zebras are stripy.

According to new research, zebra’s stripes might help protect them from attacks by bloody-sucking flies by dazzling them as they come in to land.

Scientists conducted an experiment on a UK horse farm in Somerset that involved zebras as well as horses dressed in black and white striped coats.

They found that horse flies gathered around domestic horses and zebras at a similar rate – but landed on zebras a quarter as often.

Scientists conducted an unusual experiment involving zebras and horses dressed in black and white striped coats (Picture: PA)

When horses were dressed in stripy “zebra coats” the flies made far fewer landings on the striped areas but were not kept away from the uncovered head, the research – reported in the journal Public Library of Science ONE – found.

Video footage showed that striped affected the way flies landed, with the confusing ‘landing strip’ forcing them to crash or abort landing altogether.

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Study leader Professor Tim Caro, from the University of California at Davis, US, said: “Once they get close to the zebras… they tend to fly past or bump into them. This indicates that stripes may disrupt the flies’ abilities to have a controlled landing.”

Dr Martin How, a member of the team from the University of Bristol, said: “Stripes may dazzle the flies in some way once they are close enough to see them with their low-resolution eyes.”

Zebra’s stripes have given rise to a range of theories including camouflage, a way of confusing predators, a method of signalling other zebras, and a system of heat control.

More recent research has suggested that somehow the stripes reduce the chances of a zebra being bitten by flies.