"I asked the Zebra, are you black with white stripes?
Or white with black stripes?
And the zebra asked me,
Are you good with bad habits?
Or are you bad with good habits?"
~ Shel Silverstein
Some modern theories about zebra stripes involve thermodynamics! The dark stripes soak up more sunlight than the light ones, creating eddy currents of wind that swirl heat away. Other researchers have discovered that biting flies avoid striped patterns. It is thought that biting flies prefer hot temperatures, so they may be less likely to bite a cooler zebra. Occasionally, a foal is born with a "polka dot" pattern instead of classic stripes! 🦓
While plains zebras are still plentiful, one subspecies, the quagga, became extinct in the late 19th century. Its name was derived from its call, which sounded like "kwa-ha-ha". The quagga was distinguished from other zebras by its limited pattern of primarily brown and white stripes, mainly on the front part of the body. The rear was brown and without stripes, and therefore more horse-like.
It was originally believed that zebras were white animals with black stripes, since some zebras have white underbellies. Embryological evidence, however, shows that the animal's background color is black and the white stripes and bellies are additions.
The zebra stripes are believed to have several functions: camouflage, visual cues and identification, creation of a light pattern that reduces attractiveness to flies, and even cooling (by creation of air currents generated by the heat differential between the light and dark striped patterns).
By designer Carol A.L. Martin, this tartan design adds a touch of imaginary whimsy to the stark black and white of a zebra pattern.
Occasionally, variants of the stripe pattern occur such as the "polka dot" patterned foal shown above. This may be a result of partial albinism, a condition where reduced melanin causes a zebra's stripes to appear a pale, golden color.
To see Zoe, a "golden" or "white" zebra, a rare colouration that is not a result of albinism, click the zebra mother and her "polka dot" baby.