Zebra rugs really do the job

Horses in ‘Zebra’ rugs are less afflicted by flies. This is the outcome of research carried out in Great Britain. The stripes disrupt the flying patterns of the flying biting brigade.

Research on horses and zebras at equine yard

At an equine yard in Great Britain tests were carried out on both horses and zebras. The researchers studied videos and carried out close-up observations of zebras and horses that were fitted with and without black & white striped rugs.

Flies zoom past

Flies are just as attracted to zebras as to horses. However, when they get close the striped pattern disrupts their flying performance and controlled landing, as the researchers noticed. Compared to other rugs, the horses with the striped rugs were skipped by the flies. As soon as the flies zoom in on the zebras they tend to fly past or crash land on them, the research revealed. ‘Somehow these stripes seem to blind the flies’, says researcher Professor Tim Caro of University of California, Davis who supervised the experiments together with Martin How of Bristol University. ‘But the flies must be very close to the striped patterns before the disorientation takes effect. Their eyesight is completely different from human eyesight.’

Zebras more effective in chasing away flies

More interesting details were revealed by the research on horses and zebras. For instance, zebras almost continuously swing their tails to ward off flies during the day. When they feel pestered because the flies are particularly persistent the zebras stop foraging and run away to try to lose them. Horses try to ward off the flies by flicking their tails and quivering muscles in their skin, which is far less effective. So zebras are much more adept at chasing away the flying brigade than horses.

Source: De Hoefslag and Horsetalk

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