Zebras have some of the most beautiful naturally occurring body patterns in the animal kingdom. Yet, there is much more to a zebras’ stripes than you think.
In a study recently published in the Journal of Natural History the scientific publication of the British Natural History Museum, by amateur naturalist and former biology technician, Alison Cobb and her zoologist husband, Dr. Stephen Cobb, they argue that these stripes are used to regulate body temperature.
Even more so, researchers may have finally cracked the code on how this process works.
A Personal Cooling System
According to the research, the zebra stripes keep a zebra cool in its hot natural environment. Even more so small-scale convection currents created between the stripes which aid evaporation, while the previously unrecorded ability of zebras to erect their black stripes is also part of this complicated cooling system.
The research was collected over the years in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, the research by the duo marks the first time zebras have been observed in their natural habitat for the sole purpose of temperature control.
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During their research researchers observed differences in temperature between the black and white stripes of a Zebra. By observing the heat changes of both live and dead Zebras, the research team observed something interesting. The live zebras seemed to maintain a consistent temperature while the dead zebra’s body kept on rising. This pointed to an underlying cooling system.
Keeping it Cool
Between the black and white stripes of a zebra, there are differences in temperature. Researchers have proposed that these differential temperatures and air activity on the black and white stripes set up small-scale convective air movements within and just above the stripes as they sweat. This also the air and the water vapor at the tip of the hairs of the zebra.
In fact, the zebras can raise their hairs to help control this process. In short, the entire process involves convective air movements, latherin-aided sweating and hair-raising. This helps the zebra wick sweat away from their skin so it can evaporate more efficiently, to help them cool down. Alison Cobb lead author of the study was blown away by the findings.
"The solution to the zebra's heat-balance challenge is cleverer, more complex and beautiful than we'd imagined. Of course, there is much more work to be done to gather evidence and fully understand how the stripes help zebras control temperature, but I am 85 now, so that's for others to do."