Scientists have retrieved DNA from preserved quagga pelts, and efforts are underway to revive the subspecies in South Africa [source: Adult zebras Equus burchellii , E. Like other perissodactyls , zebras digest their food in the cecum , a blind sac at the far end of the small intestine where complex compounds such as cellulose are acted upon by symbiotic bacteria.
The Development of Zebra Striping Pattern ]. Speaking of stripes, that brings us to the age-old question: What color is a zebra? If you research this answer, you'll quickly discover many conflicting perspectives. That means black is the actual color of the fur, and the white patches are simply the areas that lack pigmentation [source: To top it off, most zebras have dark skin beneath their fur [source: Although zebras share similar stripe patterns and the same general appearance, a closer examination of their coats reveals distinct differences among the three existing species:.
The extinct quagga, a subspecies of the plains zebra, lived in South Africa and was originally thought to be its own separate species because of its unique coloring. This equine looked like a cross between a horse and a zebra since its head and neck was striped and faded into a solid coat toward its rump. The last quagga died in a zoo in [source: The International Museum of the Horse ]. Scientists have retrieved DNA from preserved quagga pelts, and efforts are underway to revive the subspecies in South Africa [source: Aromatherapy Shows Promise for Stressed Horses.
Are zebras black with white stripes or white with black stripes? What Color Is a Zebra? Grevy's zebras have narrower stripes and black stripes running down their spines. These are the most populous zebra species, found in northern Kenya. Their broader stripes fade to gray, called shadow striping , as they move down the body. The mountain zebra also has a peculiar gridlike pattern of stripes on the rump.
Where stripes converge on the shoulders, all zebras have triangular chevrons. In all zebra species, the stripes are like fingerprints, allowing scientists to easily identify individuals. Two types of mating systems are observed in zebras. Like the horse, the mountain and the plains zebras live in small family groups consisting of a stallion and several mares with their foals.
The females that form the harem are unrelated. The harem remains intact even when the stallion leading the harem is replaced by another male. When moving, stallions usually remain in the rear but still maintain control over the movement of the herd.
Males create dung piles, or middens, to mark territorial boundaries that typically follow physical features such as streambeds. Increased reproductive success is enjoyed by males that occupy territories through which females must pass in order to gain access to safe drinking areas or prime grazing sites.
Females and bachelor males form unstable groups without any clear dominance hierarchy. Adult males and females do not form lasting bonds, but related females may occupy the same grazing areas. However, females and bachelor male groups use annual home ranges of several thousand square kilometres. Territoriality has evolved because resources are widely scattered and easily defendable. With plentiful food, small groups may coalesce into large herds, but the smaller groups still retain their identities.
Zebras often form mixed herds with other mammals such as wildebeests and giraffes , which gain protection from predators by the alertness of the zebras. Zebras with young colts avoid predators such as hyenas by forming a cluster around the mother and young rather than bolting.
A stallion will attack hyenas and wild dogs if his harem is threatened. Unless hyenas hunt in large groups, their attacks on zebras are often unsuccessful. Available surface water is a critical need of zebras during the hot dry season. After these species have moved on, the drinking holes are used by other animals such as oryxes , springboks , plains zebras, kudus , giraffes, hyenas, and lions.
Like other perissodactyls , zebras digest their food in the cecum , a blind sac at the far end of the small intestine where complex compounds such as cellulose are acted upon by symbiotic bacteria. Cecal digestion is less efficient for digesting grasses than ruminant digestion, but zebras compensate by ingesting more forage than do ruminants.
This forage often includes grass stems and leaves too high in fibre or low in protein for ruminants to digest effectively and meet metabolic needs. Food travels rapidly through the cecum, and forage passes faster through a zebra than, for example, a wildebeest. Thus, even though zebras are less efficient than wildebeests in extracting protein from their food, they can extract more protein from low-quality grasses because of their faster rate of digestion and assimilation.
The selective advantage of this approach is that zebras can subsist on range grasses unsuitable for antelope , an especially important adaptation during periods of drought or seasonal declines in forage quality.
The disadvantage is that zebras must spend a considerable part of their day feeding to maintain the high rate of intake. The increased time spent foraging exposes them to greater risks of predation. The plains zebra, although relatively abundant, engages in an outstanding example of an endangered behaviour pattern—large-scale migration. Protecting migration corridors of plains zebras in East Africa is therefore as much a conservation priority as efforts on behalf of the two officially endangered species.
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Learn More in these related Britannica articles: Herds spread outward during the rains and concentrate during the dry season around water holes. Elephants Loxodonta africana wander great distances in search of the best food and water supply.
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