A zebra munches on grass in a field in Africa. Nearby, a horsefly is buzzing around looking for food too. The insect bites a nearby animal and drinks its blood. The fly is tiny, but it can be a big problem. It can pass on deadly diseases as it feeds. Luckily for the zebra, the hungry fly doesn’t land on it. Why?
Tim Caro, a biologist at the University of California, Davis, believes it has to do with the zebra’s stripes. “We grow up learning pandas are black and white, leopards are spotted, and zebras are striped,” says Caro. “But not enough people ask, ‘Why?’”
For at least 150 years, scientists have pondered why zebras have stripes. Some guessed the patterns distract predators, allowing zebras to escape attacks. Others thought the stripes might keep zebras cool. Caro followed these steps of the scientific process to try to solve the mystery.