Zebras are White with Black Stripes
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Zebras are white with black stripes.

Don’t believe that!

Are zebras white with black stripes or black with white stripes? At first this may seem like a philosophical question, but science does provide an answer. Contrary to what most people would guess, zebras have black skin with white stripes.

A zebra’s unique pattern is thought to serve a number of purposes, not all of which are yet understood. It’s most likely primary function is camouflage. Unlike other animals that utilize camouflage to blend in with their environment, zebras use it to blend in with each other. Zebras are herding animals, and the stripes create an optical illusion that discourages its primary predators, lions and hyenas, from attacking. The overlapping, moving stripes in the herd make it difficult to tell where one animal ends and another begins.

Another possible function of the stripes is body temperature regulation. Theoretically, the black stripes absorb more heat than the white stripes, causing air flow across the zebra’s body. A 2015 study helped support this hypothesis by discovering a correlation between environment temperature and stripe patterns.

So, how can scientists state that zebras are black with white stripes, especially given that zebra bellies are white? The stripes are the result of pigment activation and inhibition. The white areas are the result of pigment inhibition, that is, the suppression of the natural color. Also, most zebras have dark skin under their fur. Finally, observation of developing zebra embryos has shown that the embryos are completely black until the final development stage, when the white stripes (and belly) appear.


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