While the white and black striped pattern make zebras spectacular and unique, the fact about zebra stripes goes beyond beauty. The theories why zebras have the white and black pattern rotate around camouflage and identity.
At first glance, all the zebras in a herd might look alike. However, zebra stripe patterns are just as distinctive as human fingerprints. Individual zebra patterns can be identified by comparing the stripe patterns, color, and width.
The fact that zebra stripes are their individual identity marks is mainly provided by their behavior. For instance, in case a zebra is born without striped, it tends to be ignored by the entire herd. On the other hand, when a foal is born, the rest of the herd stays away for a few days until the mother learns to recognize the foal by sight, smell, and voice.
Zebra stripes act as camouflage in various ways. The vertical stripe pattern resembles tall grass. Although the color does not blend in with the surrounding grass, to color blind predators like lions, zebras merge perfectly with the scenery, especially when it is not moving.
Moreover, the black and white zebra stripe pattern forms a discoloration that helps break up the body outline. Therefore, a small herd of zebras may appear like one large animal. This is very advantageous to the zebras in deterring attacks by predators.
Therefore, before a lion initiates an attack on a herd of zebras, it must target the disadvantaged one. This might be a young, aged, or weak zebra in the herd. The lion’s eyes must also lock in on the target.
The vertical stripes on the zebra’s neck and back combined with diagonal stripes on the flank give sudden motion signals. Therefore, without following this process, the lion, which mainly relies on ambush and stealth, finds it quite hard to initiate a successful attack before it is noticed.
Zebra stripes confuse predators, especially during nighttime when lions and other big cats are most active. This concept of distorting true distances is called disruptive coloration.