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Hi, everybody!

You’re just in time. Squeaks and I are looking into an animal mystery.

We were looking through our big book of animals, and the last animal in the book caught our eye. It’s a zebra! You’ve probably heard of them before -- they look a lot like horses, but they have black and white stripes!

Have you ever wondered why zebras have these special stripes? To find out, let’s look a little closer at the life of a zebra. Zebras are closely related to horses, and they are like them in a lot of ways!

They look like horses, of course, and run like them too. They eat grass like horses do, and they even sound a bit like them. But zebras are also different from horses in some important ways.

For one thing, horses can be found in many parts of the world, but wild zebras only live in Africa. Zebras also have hair on the back of their neck -- called a mane -- that’s shorter and spikier than it is on horses. And of course, horses come in many different colors and patterns, but all zebras wear a coat of black and white stripes!

But still, not all zebras are exactly the same. There are actually three different species, or special types, of zebra! Two of these species are named after the kind of place they live in.

The Plains Zebra lives on plains, where it’s mostly flat and there’s a lot of grass and other plants to eat. Then there’s the Mountain Zebra, which lives -- you guessed it! -- in the mountains. The last species is called Grévy’s GRAVY’S Zebra, and it only lives on a few special grasslands in Africa.

But all types of zebras have their famous stripes, and scientists have always wondered what these stripes were for. This is what we’re curious about today! Let’s look at a few ideas about how these stripes might help zebras to survive in the wild.

Some scientists used to think that zebras could use their stripes to recognize each other. It turns out that each zebra has a unique pattern of stripes, just like how every person -- including you! -- has a unique set of fingerprints on their fingertips. Maybe, by looking at each other’s stripes, zebras could recognize each other, and their families.

But you don’t recognize your friends by their fingerprints. So, we’re not sure that zebras use their stripes that way, either. After all, zebras have many other ways to recognize each other, like by their smell or by the sounds they make.

So, scientists have also thought that zebras might use their stripes to hide from predators. Lions and hyenas are two predators that often hunt zebras. So some have thought that the zebras’ long stripes might help them stay hidden in the tall grass.

But after looking closer, scientists noticed that the zebras’ stripes didn’t stop lions and hyenas from finding them. Instead, the predators used their noses to find zebras by smell -- they weren’t fooled by the zebras’ stripes at all. So, maybe the stripes do something else!

And, there is one other animal that zebras need to keep away: horseflies! Horseflies are big, pesky biting flies, and they often bite animals like zebras, kind of like how mosquitoes bite people. But scientists have noticed that horseflies don’t seem to like zebra stripes.

Something about the pattern of the black and white stripes makes horseflies confused, so they stay away from them. So maybe that’s it! Today, some scientists think that the stripes help zebras avoid getting bitten by horseflies.

The stripes might work kind of like a built in bug repellent In fact, it turns out that zebras have the most stripes in places they really don’t want horseflies to bite them, like on their faces. And many other people have started using the answer to this animal mystery to help protect horses, too. Some farmers have started putting zebra striped coats on their horses to keep horseflies away.

What an amazing way to use what we’ve learned to help our animal friends. It’s important to remember that there could be more than one right answer to a question -- especially when you’re dealing with nature and science. So, scientists are still looking at all of the other things that stripes might help a zebra to do.

Maybe you have some good ideas of what these stripes could do, too. Try using your science skills to make your own guess! Ask a grown-up to help you to leave your ideas below, or send us an email at kids@scishow.com We’ll see you next time, here at the fort!