Are Zebras Black With White Stripes Or White With Black Stripes?

Ask someone to draw a zebra, and no matter their artistic skill, they’ll likely be able to create something that looks like the real animal. In most cases, the resemblance will come from the presence of black and white stripes, which are synonymous with zebras. However, have you ever wondered if these creatures are black with white stripes or white with black stripes? You’re not alone.

Not all zebras look the same

While there might be a universal understanding of what zebras look like, it’s important to note that these animals don’t all look the same. There are actually three species alive in the world today that are all patterned differently. For instance, they might only have stripes on parts of their body but not others. Or, the areas that are black on one species might be more brown on another. Of course, even with these variations, the animals don’t look worlds apart from each other. They still have the familiar light and dark stripes that people associate with zebras.

Zebras have black skin

When it comes to whether zebras are black with white stripes or vice versa, the question is aimed at the animal’s fur rather than their skin. If it was about the latter, the answer would be simple – black. That’s according to conservation biologist Tim Caro at the University of California. He states that underneath a zebra’s fur is black skin, no matter the species. The fur is a different matter, with the coloring influenced by the cells in their body that produce pigment.

A zebra’s stripes keep African horse flies away

Zebras being black and white might seem like a bizarre evolutionary choice, given it doesn’t typically help them to blend into their surroundings. However, it seems there is a purpose for the animals looking this way. If nothing else, it reportedly keeps African horse flies at bay. These insects are full of diseases that can be fatal for zebras, so avoiding them is as essential as avoiding larger predators. According to a 2020 study by Caro, these flies didn’t land on zebras wearing striped rugs as often as they did on ones wearing solid-colored rugs. So, having striped fur is obviously a useful deterrent for these animals.

Melanin is responsible for zebras being black and white

Melanin is responsible for whether a strand of a Zebra’s fur is black or white. The more of this pigment there is, the darker the hair, and vice versa. Evidently, different parts of a zebra’s body produce different levels of melanin, hence the stripes. However, is it more common for the animal to produce this pigment or not? According to Brittanica, the answer is yes. That technically makes the creatures black with white stripes because the white fur only exists when melanin is “prevented” from having an impact.

The question of whether zebras are black with white stripes or white with black stripes is one of the world’s greatest mysteries. Still, it’s nice to finally have an answer to the question that many have probably wondered about before.