London - Scientists think they know how zebras got their stripes – but the answer is far from black and white.

Although usually thought of as camouflage, the stripes more likely evolved to keep disease-carrying flies at bay, they believe.

Bizarre as this sounds, flies find it harder to land on stripes, particularly thin ones. With the zebra, its stripes are thinner on areas known to be attractive to biting flies – on the lower legs and the head.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, researchers at the University of California said the zebra’s short hair and lack of a winter coat makes it especially susceptible to bites, ensuring it needs extra protection. It also shares habitat with lots of biting flies. The scientists concluded: “A solution to the riddle of zebra stripes is at hand.”

The idea that stripes act as camouflage by making zebras harder to spot in changing woodland light has been discounted because the animals spend so much time in the open.

Another theory that they confuse predators is discounted by the fact that lions are particularly good at catching zebras. - Daily Mail