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Zebra Stripes$
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Tim Caro

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226411019

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226411156.001.0001

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Predation and crypsis

Predation and crypsis

(p.23) Two Predation and crypsis
Zebra Stripes

Tim Caro

University of Chicago Press

The oldest hypothesis for why zebras have stripes is that they blend in with background trees or grass especially under low lighting conditions. To test this, observations were made during the day, dusk, dawn and at night on live, on life-size plywood models of striped and unstriped horses, and on pelts of wildebeest, impala and zebras in Katavi National Park, Tanzania. Findings show that live zebras are easier to see at distances than other non-striped species. At dusk and dawn, live zebras, plywood model zebras and zebra pelts disappear from view slower than non-striped equivalents but appear earlier at dawn. At night, zebra pelts are easier to see than impala or wildebeest pelts especially around full moon. These findings indicate that stripes are unlikely to be involved in crypsis. Photographs of zebras passed through spatial and color filters to mimic how lions and spotted hyenas can see stripes reveal that predators are far worse at resolving stripes than humans during the day and at twilight, and only marginally better at night. Predators can only resolve stripes when zebras are very nearby indicating that stripes cannot aid in camouflage.

Keywords:   camouflage, crypsis, models, observations, pelts, predator vision, resolving stripes

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