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Striped, Yes. But Are Zebras Really Black & White?

(WILDLIFE) The zoological Rorschach test: Are zebras white with black stripes or black with white stripes? There’s actually persuasive science for one over the other. Go ahead and guess the color of a zebra’s stripes. Black or white? Then find out below if you were right! — Global Animal

African Wildlife Foundation Blog “Ask Erin” by Erin Keyes

Ah… the Great Zebra Debate. Are they white with black stripes or vice versa? Kingdoms and friendships have fallen because of this debate, but here goes:

After doing a bit of research,  the common consensus among reputable sources is that zebras are black with white stripes. Now, before anyone who disagrees takes my head off, you should know that there is actually a bit of logic and science behind this reasoning.

First, most zebras have darker skin underneath their coats.

zebras black with white stripes or white with black stripes Striped, Yes. But Are Zebras Really Black & White?

Second, fair skinned equids would not have fared well over the centuries in the unforgiving hot, arid African regions.

Third, scientists believe that zebras diverged from a solid-colored equine, with the African Wild Ass (Equus africanus) being the first species to appear after this diversion followed by the Plains Zebra (Equus quagga- aka the Common Zebra).

Now, I know a lot of you will ask how zebras are black with white stripes when, if you look at the underside of a zebra’s belly, they are stark white? There are many species of animals of different colors that have light or white colored underbellies or legs that no one would claim are white.

The striped pattern of zebras comes about from a genetic process called selective pigmentation. What this means is, black is the predominant, actual color pigmentation of the zebras coat and the part of the zebras coat that does not contain pigmentation (or at least very little pigmentation) appears as the white stripes and underbelly.

Zebra stripes work as a camouflage against predators and each species of zebra has a stripe pattern (or pigmentation) acquired for their habitat. For example, the Plains and Grevy’s Zebras have ‘darker’ pigmentation (i.e., thinner white stripes or larger black stripes, depending on how you look at it) in order to blend in with the African plains and savannas.

Zebras which live in areas with more rocky, mountainous locales are ‘lighter’ (i.e., wider white stripes) in appearance in order to blend in with their surroundings. There are three distinct species of zebra. The Plains zebra alone has six sub-species. Many people think all zebras are alike and most folks can’t tell a Plains zebra from a Cape Mountain zebra. It is because of this confusion (and by extension, different stripe patterns per species and sub-species), that the great zebra debate, no doubt, will rage on.

Wait! 

Do your part and help AWF protect the magnificent zebra– adopt Leperit the zebra, a zeal of zebras or adopt an acre (or more) of land by visiting our adoption center. You can also take action by supporting AWF’s Grevy’s Zebra project. http://www.awf.org/blog/the-great-zebra-debate/

Did you know?

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10 Responses to Striped, Yes. But Are Zebras Really Black & White?

  1. Anonymous October 19, 2013 at 7:47 am #

    I say they’re black and white – it’s a matter of perspective.

  2. Tanya Mills February 3, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

    lol, great minds soph!! xxx

  3. Sophie Curtis February 3, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

    That's the one I went on hahaha x

  4. Tanya Mills February 3, 2013 at 7:41 pm #

    for sophie curtis xxx.

  5. Alyssa Latham December 22, 2012 at 10:49 pm #

    finally now I know that they aren't white with black stripes!
    but still it look as if they are white with black stripes how is that because it don't look black with white at all!
    so I'm still confused can u please explain it more to me.

  6. Rebecca Shelton December 9, 2012 at 4:08 am #

    I have been wondering this for a long time so thanks for proving this to me and others that have read this page

  7. Tyler DeCosta November 28, 2012 at 2:49 am #

    Thank you for proving me right and my girlfriend wrong!:)

  8. Jill McFarland Klocek November 24, 2012 at 6:58 pm #

    Well Billy the sun is the issue here for both animals. Dark skin protects one from sun damage while it keeps the other warm.

  9. Billy Buskirk November 17, 2012 at 3:01 am #

    ok you say that zebras have darker skin underneath so theyre base color is black. how does that make any logical or genetic sense when a polar bear has black skin and white fur???

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Flies Credited with Giving Zebras Their Stripes « Science World - April 2, 2014

    […] Scientists say flies played a key role in the centuries-old mystery of how zebras came to have their distinguishing coat of black and white stripes. […]

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