Effect of zebra stripes on horseflies

In a relative sense, zebra stripes repel horseflies. That’s the latest discovery reported by Gábor Horváth [pictured here], who discovered that white horses attract fewer flies, and that Vikings knew a thing or two about how to use light for ship navigation. For details, see the study:

Polarotactic tabanids find striped patterns with brightness and/or polarization modulation least attractive: an advantage of zebra stripes,” Ádám Egri, Miklós Blahó, György Kriska, Róbert Farkas, Mónika Gyurkovszky, Susanne Åkesson and Gábor Horváth, Journal of Experimental Biology, vol. 215, March 2012, pp. 736-745.

“The characteristic striped appearance of zebras has provoked much speculation about its function and why the pattern has evolved, but experimental evidence is scarce. Here, we demonstrate that a zebra-striped horse model attracts far fewer horseflies (tabanids) than either homogeneous black, brown, grey or white equivalents.”

Victoria Gill of the BBC offers a take on this:

Why zebras evolved their characteristic black-and-white stripes has been the subject of decades of debate among scientists. Now researchers from Hungary and Sweden claim to have solved the mystery. The stripes, they say, came about to keep away blood-sucking flies. They report in the Journal of Experimental Biology that this pattern of narrow stripes makes zebras “unattractive” to the flies. They key to this effect is in how the striped patterns reflect light….

(Thanks to investigator Hugh Henry for bringing this to our attention.)

3 Responses to “Effect of zebra stripes on horseflies”

  1. Martin g Says:

    It’s a shame that the Quagga


    is extinct, as this might have been an ideal animal with which to test the theory in a real-life creature (instead of a less-than-100%-lifelike model). Experimenters could simply observe which end of the animal the files preferred – the stripey end or the non-stripey end?

    There may still be possibilities for such experiments however, with zedonks, zebra mules, zebrules, zebra hinnies, or donkras?


  2. Stig Says:

    Unlikely thee cause. There are many creatures, on land, in the air and at sea, that exhibit stripped, body shrouding patterns, just a vividly and ordered in design, as the zebra’s. Indeed, there are aquatic predators, such as the lionfish, some anglefish, as well as, many and various members of the squid family, that actually use strikingly similar patterns to attract their prey. Go figure.

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