The stripes on zebra coats may do more than just assist with fly control: They may help control body temperature, new research shows. Small-scale convection currents created between the stripes aid evaporation and the zebra's ability to erect the hair on their black stripes also helps with heat loss.
Former biology technician Alison Cobb and her zoologist husband, Dr. Stephen Cobb, spend many years in sub-Saharan Africa while Dr. Cobb directed environmental research and development projects. While there, they were able to study zebras in their natural habitat to determine if the animal's stripes assisted with temperature control. For their research, the duo used a male and female zebra, and a zebra hide as a control.
The study showed that the temperature difference between the black and white stripes increased with the temperature. The temperature on the living zebras leveled out at 12 to 15 degrees hotter than the white; the difference between the stripes on the zebra hide continuously heated up. This indicates that there is an underlying mechanism that prevents black zebra stripes from continuously heating up.
The team also discovered that the hair in the black stripes became raised as the temperature rose, while the hair in the white stripes remained flat. This ability to raise the hair shaft allows for increased air flow and sweat evaporation.
The researchers concluded that stripes on zebra coats may to assist with heat control, though more research is needed.
Read more at Science Daily.
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