How and why zebras evolved into black and white stripes are questions that have bothered scientists for more than a century. Researchers have presented around 18 reasons, from camouflage to warning colours, as to why zebras have black and white stripes. 

“People have been talking about zebra stripes for over a hundred years, but it's just a matter of really doing experiments and thinking clearly about the issue to understand it better” ecologist Tim Caro told BBC Future in 2019. 

Zebras are black with white stripes.

One of the most logical answers behind why zebras have black and white stripes is protection from biting flies, thermoregulation, and protection from predators.

At first glance, it may seem the opposite - after all, the black lines of many zebras end up on the belly and towards the inside of the legs, revealing the rest as white. But the look is deceptive in the case of the zebra.

All zebra feathers, black and white, grow from follicles with melanocyte cells. These cells are present in all the animals and are primarily responsible for creating pigments that give colour to their skin and hair. In all these cases, melanocyte cells that produce melanin - the pigment - are externally visible. In zebras, chemical messengers announce melanocytes that provide pigment to parts of the grass, thereby creating a black and white pattern of ice. The important thing about zebras is that their white fur indicates the absence of melanin; white is not its pigment. Because white stripes only exist because the pigment is rejected, black is known as the "default" colour of the zebra.

Beneath all that fur, zebras have black skin. A linear, lineless zebra may not be recognized as an all-black animal.

Question answered. Still: Researchers still do not believe that they contain stripes. In a 2014 study by Caro and others, they found that animal striping is more common in areas rife with biting flies, which probably means that biting flies try to see striped or black-and-white lines as a safe place to land. There are also fewer flies on Livery Hill that attack zebras and horses with striped coats than horses without striped coats.

While this is one of the most experimental theories on the subject, not all scientists are convinced. Retired veterinary technician Alison Cobb told the BBC Future that she did not believe the avoidance of bitten flies was important to trigger a progressive appearance, such as stripes. She prefers the heat vision, which shows that the black lines absorb the heat of the cold zebras in the morning and the white lines reflect the light to cool the zebras to the heat of the afternoon. Cobb said, "All zebras should avoid the heat, mosquito bites will come at certain places and at certain times of the year, but they are not even as repetitive or dangerous as the heat."
With all the research, the conclusion is that the lines confuse the bitten fly that normally falls on mammals in the major African areas, keeping the flies away from landing on the zebras. Fewer flies bite means fewer diseases.

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