Striped, Yes. But Are Zebras Really Black & White?May 16, 2011 • By Molly-Marie Canales
(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.
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.
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/
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