Sarah Leigh Storer of Balclutha Primary School asks :-
How do zebras get their stripes and why?
Alex Davies, of Massey University's School of Veterinary Science, responded.
It is generally thought that zebras have white stripes on a black background. The white stripes form where the dark hair colour is prevented from developing. Even though there are a number of species of zebra (eg. common, imperial and mountain zebras) there is one tripe blueprint. By applying it to the developing baby zebra at different times (week 3, week 4 or week 5) the same basic pattern is distorted in different ways by subsequent growth of the foetus to give the distinct look of each species. What is not yet known is how exactly the hair colour is inhibited in some areas but activated in others.
Some people think zebras have stripes to camouflage themselves or at lest try to confuse their predators how far away they are. Proof of this is hard to find. Another possibility is that the stripes deter biting insects such as tsetse flies that prefer large, dark, moving animals. Another species of zebra called the quagga, which is now extinct, had stripes on its front half but none on its rear. Perhaps its dark rump presented a temping target for biting insect and led to its demise. We may never know for sure.