Z is for Zebra
Image by amateur_photo_bore on Flikr.
There are three species of zebra – Plains zebra (with 6 subspecies, one extinct), Mountain zebra (with 2 subspecies) and Grévy’s zebra. Although some species overlap in their habitat, they do not interbreed, and although in captivity Plains zebra can interbreed with Mountain zebra, Grévy’s zebra suffer a high rate of miscarriage.
It has been found that the skin colour of a zebra is black, so it has white stripes and belly.
Scientists have several theories as to why zebras have stripes.
One is that the stripes confuse insects, who see linearly polarised light – the stripes disrupt the pattern, so possibly the stripes serve to keep irritation from biting insects down.
Another theory is that the black and white stripes serve as a cooling system.
It is possible that the stripes allow zebra to recognise each other, as each zebra has a pattern unique to itself, although its overall pattern conforms to the general one of each species – plains zebras’ stripes are more widely spread apart than those of the mountain zebra for instance.
The stripes could serve to break up the outline of a zebra when it is alone among the grasses.
And the most likely theory to me (although all of the above may be true also!) is that when all the zebra are together the stripes cause motion dazzle to the eyes, which confuses predators – it is very difficult for them to pick out one zebra from the herd with any degree of accuracy, and the herd merges into one big stripey animal.
Also, I think a baby zebra is camouflaged very well by the side of its mother – it is quite hard to see, as their stripes join together – this would certainly keep a baby zebra safer, as it would be less likely to be targeted by a predator as young and vulnerable.
Zebra are highly sociable and know each member of their herd – they are thoughtful to each other , they will walk at the pace of the slowest member – an elderly zebra, or a new baby.
If one zebra is attacked, the others will bravely turn back and surround the predator and try to drive it off.
If one member of the herd gets lost, the others will search for it.
I became rather fond of zebras after researching them!
Photo © as above.
Poem © Liz Brownlee.
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