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Zebras. They're kind of the David Bowies of the Mammalian World. [Quietly] Isn't David Bowie a mammal?

There's no question that the stripes are stylish, but why do zebras have them?

Well, a lot of theories have to do with camouflage, and this may seem counter-intuitive given the distinct lack of zebra print environments in nature, but really camouflage can work in lots of different ways. Like, sometimes it's about the pattern, not the coloration. Because, to a colorblind lion, these stripes blend in nicely with tall grasses.

Zebra camouflage may also work through optical illusions. As highly social animals, zebras live in herds, and when they're together, all those stripes can make it hard for a creeping predator to single out any one of them. A herd of striped equines may just look like a big blob of crazy. New computer simulations of zebras in motion even suggest that specific and spectacularly disorientating illusions are at work. Have you ever noticed how when a spinning wheel reaches a certain speed, the so-called "Wagon-Wheel Effect" kicks in and it looks like it's actually turning backwards? Or how even though that the iconic barber shop pole rotates horizontally it looks like those stripes are moving up and down? Well, a herd of moving zebra can induce both those types of optical illusions, helping to further confuse predators.

It also seems that striping may help ward off biting insects, which is awesome because a lot of insects have diseases. Horse-flies, for example, are typically attracted to dark colors over light ones, but researchers have recently found out that narrow, densely packed striping is basically the least attractive coloration to hungry horse-flies. Less appealing than either solid black or solid white. So maybe these stripes are a natural bug repellent.

And interestingly, zebras' striped patterns are as unique as fingerprints - no two are the same. So, they may even help the animals recognize each other.

There you have it; zebra stripes. Fabulous and functional.

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