To the human eye it seems absurd. The zebra’s black and white striped pattern could not be more obvious. Whether roaming around the zoo or running across the Serengeti, the zebra is an animal that sticks out.
To its predators, however, the stripes are an entirely different story. In the wild, the zebra’s main predator is the lion, an animal known to be color blind. Scientists who study animals — called zoologists — believe that the zebra’s pattern is a sort of camouflage that helps it hide from predators.
Imagine that you can only see black, white and shades of gray. A solid-color dark horse standing in light-colored tall grass would be very obvious. A zebra’s stripes, however, help it blend in with grasses and brush, making it much more difficult to see.
Biologists also believe the zebra’s stripes may be helpful when zebras run in a herd. When a large number of zebras move together, their stripes could appear to be one large animal running. This illusion may confuse predators, making it difficult for them to pick out a single animal to attack. Though the zebra may not realize it, its stripes greatly improve its chances of survival in the wild.
Although most people tend to think of the zebra as a white animal with black stripes, scientists have discovered that the zebra is actually a black animal with white stripes. Much like a fingerprint, the stripes on a zebra are unique. No two animals have the same pattern.
Zebras aren’t the only animals that use camouflage to survive in the wild. Many mammals, snakes and insects have developed special ways of blending into their habitats. One of the most famous camouflaging creatures is the chameleon, which can change color to blend into its environment.
Humans use camouflage, too. The military has special uniforms that allow soldiers to blend into their surroundings. Hunters also use camouflage to avoid being spotted by the animals they hunt. For safety reasons, though, hunters are often required by law to wear bright orange clothing, so that other hunters are able to recognize them as a person and not an animal roaming in the woods. Although the bright orange clothing is very obvious to the human eye, most animals don’t see it as a bright color due to color blindness.