SCIENCE SKETCH: a quick look at some new science
This week's breaking news is that we (still) don't know what zebra stripes are for! A new study says, rather unshockingly, that they probably aren't much use as camouflage on the open plains.
I observed a zebra herd myself recently. From a certain distance, I couldn't see individual stripes – just a weird gray color. That “certain distance” is lot shorter for lions and hyenas than for humans, and even shorter in low light, according to the estimates of these researchers.
So striped zebras look the same to a predator as unstriped zebras would, except at close range where you really can't miss them (especially if you have a lion's sense of smell).
Ok, maybe stripes don't make it harder to detect zebras. Couldn't they still make it harder to catch zebras? I can't speak for lions or hyenas, but at close range all of those moving stripes messed with my eyes, like an optical illusion.