A “Dazzle” of Zebra

A “dazzle” of zebras – the collective noun for these herbivores – aptly describes the resultant confusion that arises as they stampede, with their patterns intermingling and creating an illusion that makes it harder for predators to focus on a single individual.

But this is not the only reason for their unique striped patterns. One theory is that the black and white helps them to blend into the bush environment between the thicker vegetation as the light and dark contrasts, as it would be when sunlight shines through the bushes creating a dappled effect.

Another theory is that it helps them to regulate their body temperature. If you look at the front half of a zebra’s body, the black stripes are more predominant, whereas on the back half of the body the white stripes are more visible.

Each zebra has a unique pattern of stripes, which helps them to identify individuals. This is most important with a mother and her newborn foal as the mother will separate herself from the herd, moving away sometimes hundred metres or more, but just far enough that she can see the herd. The mother needs the foal to imprint her patterns and not another individual. If the foal does not imprint the mother’s patterns it will not be able to survive without the life-sustaining milk that she provides.

The gestation period of a pregnant zebra is about 12 months – but once her foal is born it takes less than half an hour before the youngster can walk, drink, and follow its mother!

Along with the unique striping, individual zebras also have a shape of a triangle on their front shoulder blade. This used by the foal to follow its mother better when running from a threat. It’s like a “Follow Me” or “Stick Close” sign for the youngster!

This sign is the same height as the newborn foal, so that it can see it clearly. At birth the baby’s legs are almost the same length as its mother – this not only ensures that it can see the sign, but also that it is lost in the “dazzle” of moving stripes and not visible below the adults.

The gestation period of a pregnant zebra is about 12 months – but once her foal is born it takes less than half an hour before the youngster can walk, drink, and follow its mother. What a challenge that would be for human babies!

Another relatively gross fact about these amazing animals is that the foal is born without digestive enzymes or bacteria, so after about a week of a milk-only diet, the youngster will start to eat the dung of its mother, ensuring the growth of these essential bacteria, so when it is ready to be weaned its stomach (as an ungulate) is ready to process the vegetation.

Next time you are on a game drive with Jaci’s Lodges, ask your safari guide to give you more amazing facts on these oft-ignored mammals!

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