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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 aposematism

Predation and aposematism

(p.55) Three Predation and aposematism
Zebra Stripes

Tim Caro

University of Chicago Press

Species that are toxic, unpalatable or well defended often advertise themselves with contrasting colors. This is called aposematism. In mammals examples include skunks and porcupines. Therefore it is possible that stripes are a signal that zebras can defend themselves vigorously against predators by means of strong bites and sharp kicks. Certainly, zebras, plywood models and pelts are easier to see than uniformly colored equivalents, and behavioral records indicate that zebras are far noisier than topi or impala, a characteristic of aposematic species. Furthermore, compared to lion roars, zebras appear relatively unconcerned about experimental calls of spotted hyenas or leopards played to them suggesting these predators do not give them undue cause for concern. Nonetheless, predator-prey studies indicate that zebras rarely attack predators. Moreover, records of extensive wounding in Katavi National Park show that zebras are frequently attacked by lions suggesting that striping does not inhibit attack. The warning coloration hypothesis is intriguing but is not well supported by data.

Keywords:   defense, noisy behavior, predator playbacks, warning coloration, wounding

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