Science & Equine

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Written by Debby Gudden

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Behaviour of horse flies around zebras and horses

Only recently it has been believed that the function of zebra stripes is to protect the animals from biting flies. However, the exact mechanism by which stripes reduce attack by ectoparasites is yet unknown. Therefore, this study examined the behaviour of tabanids (horse flies) around captive zebras and uniformly coloured domestic horses. In a second experiment tabanids behaviour was also examined when the horses wore three different type of rugs.

The authors concluded that a striped coat prevented flies from making a controlled landing resulting in few tabanids probing for blood, and as a result of zebras’ changeable behaviour, few stayed a long time.


Do you use zebra striped rugs for your horses?

If no; would you consider using it after reading this article?


Expert opinion by Debby Gudden

Zebra stripes have long been a true mystery for researchers. Most prey animals have an inconspicuous coat which makes them more difficult to distinguish from their environment. Research has already shown that the way in which a dark horse's coat is reflected is different (horizontally)  from that of a white horse's coat (reflective). The dark coat attracts more insects than the white coat due to the horizontal movement of light waves over the coat. Different experiments with dark, white and striped plates with glue have shown that the striped plates attract fewer insects when compared to the dark and white plates. These experiments have then continued to a striped model horse and then to experiments with living zebras. Blanket manufacturers have used this science to design the ‘zebra fly blanket’ that are nowadays used by many horse owners. The findings from this study contribute to the proof that the stripes of a zebra disrupt the flight patterns of biting (horse) flies.

> From: Caro et al., PLoS One (2019) 1-13. All rights reserved to 2019 Caro et al.. Click here for the online summary.

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