How did the zebra get its stripes?
ACCORDING to Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, the zebra got its stripes by standing half in the shade and half out, “with the slippery-slidy shadows of the trees” falling on its body. In Zebra Stripes, Tim Caro, a professor of wildlife biology at the University of California, Davis, sets out to test all the hypotheses explaining this most mysterious yet obvious phenomenon.
A bit of thought reveals the scale of the challenge: if having stripes is such a good thing, why do no other animals living on the African savannah, or non-zebra members of the horse family, Equidae, have stripes? Something, or some things, very specific to zebra ecology must have driven the evolution of this apparent adaptation, and will explain its absence in closely related species, and in species that share its niche.