20 Things You Didn’t Know About Zebras

Few animals are as striking as the zebra in a purely graphic sense. Giant pandas, penguins and skunks may share the same bold color combination, but the zebra’s contrasting stripes make it an animal that stands out from the crowd. Its dazzling mod pattern has made the zebra a muse to fashion designers, a mascot for advertisers, and a delight to legions of zoo visitors. But the zebra is much more than a horse with stripes. Consider the following:

Few animals are as striking as the zebra in a purely graphic sense. Giant pandas, penguins and skunks may share the same bold color combination, but the zebra’s contrasting stripes make it an animal that stands out from the crowd. Its dazzling mod pattern has made the zebra a muse to fashion designers, a mascot for advertisers, and a delight to legions of zoo visitors. But the zebra is much more than a horse with stripes. Consider the following:

1. There are three species of zebra and in the wild they are only found in Africa. They include: Burchell’s zebra, also known as the common or plains zebra; Grevy’s zebra, named for Jules Grevy, a 19th century French president who received one from Abyssinia as a gift; and the Equus zebra. All three belong to the genus Equus, which includes horses and donkeys.

2. Why oh why does a zebra have those stripes? Theories abound. Most commonly, a zebra’s distinctive stripes are thought to offer protection – they provide camouflage against grasses and make individual animals difficult to single out in a herd when viewed by predators. But new research suggests that the stripes may have evolved as a deterrent to blood-sucking insects. (Note to self: Try stripes during mosquito season.)

3. The skin of a zebra is black. Does that makes its stripes white? The conundrum ensues.

Photo: Michal Ninger/Shutterstock

 

4. Each species of zebra has different types of stripes, varying in width and pattern distribution. Curiously, the farther south on the African plains the zebra lives, the father apart its stripes will be.

5. Within each species, no two zebras have the same stripes; they are as unique as fingerprints.

6. “Tijuana Zebras” are not zebras, at all. They are painted donkeys used in the Mexican town as a tourist gimmick.

7. Zebras weigh anywhere from 400 to 850 pounds, depending on the species. The Grevy’s zebra is the largest wild member of the horse family.

Photo: Chantal de Bruijne/Shutterstock)

 

8. Zebras are social animals and live in small family groups that combine into large herds. Even when grouped in a massive swath of other zebras, they remain close to their families.

9. Constantly on the watch for lions and hyenas, a herd helps with all of its extra eyes to monitor for danger. If a zebra is attacked, other zebras come to its defense and form a circle around it to ward off the predator.

10. Zebras are often found mingling with antelope herds, adding extra protection against threats.

11. In the wild, zebras usually live to be between 20 to 30 years old; they can live until 40 in zoos.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

12. We have been cross-breeding zebras with other equines since at least the 19th century; the resulting “zebroids” come in a number of newfangled names, from zedonk, zorse and zebra mule to zonkey (pictured above) and zebrule.

13. Zebras don’t run as quickly as horses; they max out at around 35 mph, but they have excellent endurance and their zigzagging gait helps them to better evade predators.

14. A cornered zebra rears, kicks and bites in defense. There have been numerous recorded cases of zebras killing lions, generally by a swift kick to the head that at the very least breaks the jaw, resulting in the cat’s eventual starvation.

15. Humans have certainly tried, but zebras, in general, have been resistant to our domestication efforts. Bless their stubborn souls; although perhaps more accurately, it’s their aggressive nature that has spared them such a fate. It’s not a docile creature that survives the plains of Africa and can kill a lion.

 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

16. While eccentric zoologist Lionel Walter Rothschild (1868-1937), 2nd Baron Rothschild, was able to train zebras to draw his carriage through London (pictured above in 1895), he knew that zebras would be unsuitable for riding and further domestication.

17. During the zebras’ annual migration in search of food and water, it is the responsibility of the oldest male in the family to ensure that the group never strays too far from water.

18. Burchell’s zebra are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, though their numbers have gone down significantly in the last century. Both the Grevy’s zebra and the Equus zebra are listed as endangered. Humans are the biggest threat to zebra populations; hunting and habitat destruction are to blame for their decline.

19. Of all the Fruit Stripe Gum mascots, the zebra, “Yipes,” has outlasted the rest and has become the main spokesanimal. In 1988, Yipes was made into a promotional bendy figure, one that can fetch relatively high prices in the toy collector’s market.

 

Photo: H. van der Winden/Shutterstock

 


20. And last but not least, zebra foals can get up and walk a mere 20 minutes after they’re born. All together now: awwww.

Main Photo: Joel Shawn/Shutterstock
article by Melissa Breyer
More from MNN

 


102 comments

Carrie-Anne Brown
Carrie-Anne Brownabout a year ago

thanks for sharing :)

Magdalena J.
Alice L.1 years ago

Thank you!

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson2 years ago

Educational and interesting.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe2 years ago

I was always in awe of zebras, now, I really am!
Thanks for the information!

Borg Drone
Borg Gone2 years ago

Zebra's are cool. Thanks.

Carole R.
Carole R.2 years ago

What beautiful animals they are. Thank you for the interesting information.

Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga2 years ago

noted

Ben Oscarsito
Ben Oscarsito2 years ago

Thanks for the info! -I didn't know half of it...

Kate R.
Kate R.2 years ago

Interesting, thank you!

Carole H.
Carole H.2 years ago

interesting thank you