Now scientists have found they may "dazzle" blood-sucking flies as they are coming into land.
Flies approach zebras animal with the intention of landing and drinking the zebra's blood.
Professor Tim Caro, Dr Martin How and colleagues have been investigating the behaviours of tabanid horse flies around captive zebras and domestic horses at a livery in North Somerset, using video analysis techniques.
"Stripes may dazzle flies in some way once they are close enough to see them with their low-resolution eyes", How added.
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The field trials took place on a horse farm in Britain that kept both zebras and horses. Scientists from the University of California and the University of Bristol have conducted a series of experiments to figure out why the stripes of a zebra foil biting flies.
"Most biologists involved with research on mammal coloration accept that this is the reason that zebras have stripes". Similarly as previously, when horses wore coats with striped examples, they encountered fewer horse fly landings contrasted with when they wore single-color coats. "Flies often simply bumped into zebras but fail to land or fly away".
They studied photos and video footage of zebras to test the theory, which suggested the markings make optical illusions so it's hard for predators to focus on individual animals. Zebras exhibited preventative behaviour, such as running away and tail swishing at a far higher rate than horses.
Together with the striped patterns findings, this anxiety suggests that zebras evolved sophisticated defense mechanisms in order to avoid infectious diseases carried by biting flies.
The bugs were still attracted to the zebras, and still pursued them from a distance, but couldn't nail the landing when they got close. Only five flies landed on the horses dressed in zebra coats during a 30-minute period, whereas more than 60 touched down on those in the solid black and solid white coats in the same time period. He said it was likely the "sudden reveal" of the stripes on close approach either surprised the insects and made them veer off, or interfered with their perception of how fast objects were moving past them, affecting their ability to land. The striped animals nearly continuously swish their tails during the day and will stop feeding if they feel bothered.