I love collective nouns…
A murder of crows, a cloud of bats, a confusion of guinea fowl, a mischief of mice, a prickle of porcupines, a bloat of hippos, a gulp of swallows and my all time favourite a dazzle of zebra.
So what exactly ‘does’ the dazzling ?
The key with zebra is to remember that they are hunted by the big cats, in particular: lions. Now one needs to try put yourself in the shoes, or rather the eyes of a lion or leopard. Your eyes will be very different from what you are used to. You will see things completely different. When you hunt a herd of zebra you won’t see the sharp contrasting black, white and surrounding colours but you will find that the camouflage of the zebra is quite spectacular. The stripes blend in so perfectly with the long grass in which they feed. Their stripes merely look like extensions of the grass stripes.
A big cat’s vision is not exactly black and white as many people think but assumed to be more a pastel-like spectrum of colours. This ‘diluted’ array of colours means that they will not have the ease that we have at distinguishing zebras. Add to the confusion the element of movement. Zebras are very fast. Just like their horse relatives they are capable of reaching high speeds when needed. This is when the stripes come into their own… each zebra when being chased will run for another zebra until they have formed a mass of bodies. The stripes of one zebra will quite simply blend into the stripes of another individual. The result : an optical illusion that makes it very difficult for specific body parts to be identified at speed.
So when the lion is mid stride about to pounce he may not actually be aware what area on the body he is attempting to make a killer blow on. If he gets this right then he will have a good meal, get it wrong and you could pay with your life. Im not sure how many of you are aware but the very first lioness of the Tsalala Pride was killed back in 2000 by a powerful kick from a zebra stallion. She lost her life to the dazzling of the zebra!
Apart from the dazzling aspect of the stripes there are a number of other reasons which may explain the evolution of the stripes…
1.Believed to play a role in their sexual attractions, as the slight variation of stripes allows the animal to distinguish between individuals. No two zebras have the same stripes. It is also thought that any wounds the zebra receives disrupts the striping pattern and indicates the fitness of the individual to other members of the herd and potential mates.
2. The air above the black stripe heats up and rises; the air above the white stripe will be cooler and will sink. This creates very a slight turbulence and wind over the coat of the animal. This air movement may help cooling the animal down.
3.The disruptive colouration of the stripes can effect the visual system of the Tsetse fly, a blood sucking insect.
Let me know what function you think the stripes play play..Im very interested in any extras that we could add to this list.
Written and photographed by Adam Bannister