Scientists may have just discovered why zebras have stripes by putting them on horses

PHOTO: African zebra are pictured in their enclosure at a zoo in Dehiwala near the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo on March 3, 2016.PlayIshara Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images, FILE
WATCH Scientists buzz on why zebras have stripes involves flies

Scientists believe they may have solved the mystery of why zebras have stripes.

Zebras likely evolved to have stripes in order to avert attacks from biting flies, a study, published Wednesday in the Public Library of Science ONE scientific journal, states.

In an experiment in which horses wore different patterned cloth coats, the horses wearing a striped pattern suffered far lower rates of flies landing on the coats than horses wearing a black or white coat, although there was no differences in the rate of attacks to the horses' naked heads, according to the study.

Researchers examined the behavior of horse flies near captive zebras and uniformly colored horses and found that, although rates on the amount of time the flies spent circling the two different species did not differ -- fewer flies landed on zebras than horses.

PHOTO: Close up detail of the black and white stripes on a Grevys zebra photographed at the Marwell Zoo, Aug. 4, 2016. Digital Camera Magazine via Getty Images, FILE
Close up detail of the black and white stripes on a Grevy's zebra photographed at the Marwell Zoo, Aug. 4, 2016.
PHOTO: Scientists from the University of Bristol and the University of California at Davis dressed horses in black-and-white Zebra type striped coats for part of their research. University of Bristol/UC Davis via AP
Scientists from the University of Bristol and the University of California at Davis dressed horses in black-and-white Zebra type striped coats for part of their research.

"Taken together, these findings indicate that, up close, striped surfaces prevented flies from making a controlled landing but did not influence tabanid [fly] behaviour at a distance," according to the study.

PHOTO: Zebra are seen at the Amboseli National Park in Kenya, June 22, 2018. Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images, FILE
Zebra are seen at the Amboseli National Park in Kenya, June 22, 2018.

Also, the acts of zebras swishing their tails and running away from flies resulted in "very few flies" landing on them or probing for blood, according to the study.

However, the "precise mechanism" by which stripes avert attacks is unknown.

PHOTO: African zebra are pictured in their enclosure at a zoo in Dehiwala near the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo on March 3, 2016. Ishara Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images, FILE
African zebra are pictured in their enclosure at a zoo in Dehiwala near the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo on March 3, 2016.

Martin How, a research fellow at the University of Bristol who specializes in animal vision, told The Associated Press that researchers were trying to get their minds "into the eye of the fly."

"They have very different eyes from us," How said.

How told AP that reasons to be "quite excited" about the new findings include broader implications in terms of technology. For instance, in the case of driverless cars, which are inspired by the vision of insects, if stripes can disrupt a fly they may disrupt a driverless car system as well, he said.

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