What Are You Going To Do, If You Don’t Know What To Do?

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By: Efraim Harari

The purpose of zebras’ stripes has long been a mystery; it has baffled scientists for centuries.

Up until quite recently, there were five primary hypotheses given for this question. The most common explanation was that stripes provide camouflage to help zebras hide from their predators. Scientists thought that the wavy lines of a zebra blend in with the wavy lines of the tall grass in which the animal lives. The scientists weren’t bothered by the fact that the zebra’s stripes are black and white, while the lines of the grass are yellow or green; they reasoned that the pattern of a camouflage is much more important than its color.

Another hypothesis was that the stripes confuse predators. Scientists believed that the stripes break up the zebra’s shape, as well as help it blend in with its fellow zebras, making it hard for a predator like a lion to see where one zebra ends and the next one begins.

The other three hypotheses for the purpose of the stripes were: to reduce the zebra’s body temperature; to help them identify other zebras; and to keep biting flies off of them.

However, after new studies conducted in 2014 and 2016, scientists have ruled out all but one of these hypotheses! The only one remaining is: the stripes help the zebra avoid being attacked by blood-sucking flies. More research is still needed to verify that this is indeed the main purpose for the stripes.


Zebras are actually black, with white stripes! It was previously believed that the opposite was true.

Torah Connection

By far the zebra’s most distinct characteristic is its
black-and-white stripes. When looking at the zebra, it is hard to tell if the animal is really black with white stripes, or if it is white with black stripes.

We can learn a lesson from this. We often tend to view things as “black and white” – meaning, we may hear or see something and assume it is either good or bad. However, not everything is as it appears. Sometimes something may look black and ugly, while in reality it is white and pure.

Consider the following scenario: You are in shul, doing your best to pray with kavanah, when suddenly, a man rushes in and barges his way through all the congregants as he tries to get to his seat.

What nerve!you think to yourself. If he’s coming late to shul, that’s his problem! How dare he push everyone else out of his way just because he’s running late and wants to catch up with the minyan already!

As you watch with growing annoyance, the man approaches his seat, reaches under it, and takes out…an EMT bag! Your face suddenly becomes hot as you realize that this man is actually a Hatzalah volunteer; he was rushing to his seat so he could get his bag of medical equipment in order to save someone’s life!

Not as “black and white” as you thought, right?

This is why we have the mitzvah to be dan l’chaf zechut, to judge our fellow Jew favorably. When a person seems to be making a mistake, we shouldn’t rush to think badly of him. Instead, we should look beyond the “black and white” picture and try to think of a good reason for why the person did that action.

How Zebra Stripes
Repel Biting Flies

According to a couple of new studies, scientists think it is very possible that the zebra’s stripes help to keep disease-carrying, biting flies away from them. Experiments in the field have shown that biting flies, such as horseflies and tsetse flies, don't like landing on striped surfaces. So, the zebra stripes act as a natural pest repellent!

Scientists first tested the “biting flies” hypothesis by setting up horse models, some of which had stripes painted on them and some of which were solid-colored, and covering them all in a sticky substance. They found that horseflies tended not to land on the phony horses that had the stripes.

A possible reason offered as to why the stripes discourage these flying insects is because the stripes confuse the flies’ “navigational system” – their ability to maneuver and land. Another possible explanation given is that the stripes disrupt the vision of these biting flies, so they prefer not to land on zebras.

Now that the researchers are pretty certain that the zebra’s stripes help keep flies away from them, they want to do even more studies with this theory.