The Zebra's Stripes, A Personal No-Fly Zone

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Scientists in Hungary and Sweden say they've found an answer to the age-old question of how the zebra got its stripes. It turns out the pattern may have evolved to repel Africa's biting flies. The researchers discovered this by placing models of patterned zebras next to models of their plainer cousins, horses, and measuring how many flies ended up on each one. Host Scott Simon has more.


Pinpointing the age of a mosquito is a labor of love for some. It might just equal the decades-long debate that scientists have had over just how the zebra got its stripes. Now finally, the hard work of researchers in Hungary and Sweden has paid off.

It turns out that the distinctive pattern of the animal's coat evolved specifically to keep away Africa's blood sucking flies. I don't mean to insult them. That's how they eat. The hungry bugs just aren't attracted to the sequence of polarized and unpolarized light that reflects off the zebra's black and white stripes. That's bad news for horses, though. Apparently their monotone dark hair is just what the ravenous flies are looking for.


SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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