Zebra Stripes Could Help Control Body Temperature

Scientists observed that zebras can raise the hair on their black stripes while the white ones remain flat. This, they say, could aid in cooling.

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zebra stripes
Three components—convective air movements, latherin-aided sweating, and hair-raising—work together as a mechanism to enable zebras to wick sweat away from their skin to encourage more efficient evaporation, which helps them cool down. | Photo: iStock

Recent study results suggest that zebra stripes are used to control body temperature, after all—and reveal a new mechanism for how this might be achieved.

The study authors argue that the special way zebras sweat to cool down and the small-scale convection currents created between the stripes aid evaporation, while zebras’ previously unrecorded ability to erect their black stripes is a further aid to heat loss. These three elements are key to understanding how the zebras’ unique patterning helps them manage their temperature in the heat, the team said.

Amateur naturalist and former biology technician Alison Cobb and her zoologist husband, Stephen Cobb, PhD, recently published their findings. Together, they have spent many years in sub-Saharan Africa, where he’s directed environmental research and development projects

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