Zebra Stripes May Reflect Evolutionary Arms Race With Parasites

April 2, 2014 5:59 PM

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Zebra stripes have long been something of an enigma for scientists and laypeople alike. Charles Darwin even debated the problem with fellow naturalist and discoverer of natural selection Alfred Russel Wallace. But now researchers from the University of California (UC) at Davis claim to have solved the mystery, with findings showing that zebra stripes deter bloodthirsty biting flies. If true, the new findings indicate that zebra stripes may reflect yet another example of a powerful evolutionary phenomenon found throughout nature: that of the arms race between parasites and their hosts.

There have long been five main ideas regarding why zebras evolved their stripes. One idea is that the stripes are camouflage. A related but distinct idea is that they visually confuse predators, making it difficult for a hungry lion or hyena to distinguish between individual zebras. Another hypothes...

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