Are zebras simply just striped horses or are they patterned marvels? The purpose of their stripes has been often debated.


Natural Curiosities Clip


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Equidae
Genus: Equus


There are three species of zebra; the more common plains zebra, and the endangered Grévy's and mountain zebras. They evolved alongside other horses in the Americas around 4 million years ago. Mostly social animals, zebras live in "harems" which can sometimes aggregate into larger herds.


Like human fingerprints, zebra stripes are unique to each individual. Previously believed to be black stripes on a white animal, we now know that zebra's are black with white stripes.

The actual function of the stripes has been hotly debated. Some think that the dazzling stripes may confuse predators or that they are helpful in individual or species identification. Sir David Attenborough, in David Attenborough's Natural Curiosities wonders whether they are in fact for confusing biting flies, limiting the spread of disease. Either way, they are probably an adaptation driven by a number of different reasons.

David Attenborough and a zebra


Unlike horses and asses, zebras have always proved difficult to domesticate. Attempts have been made to train zebras for riding, while Lord Rothschild managed to train his zebras to draw a carriage and Queen Charlotte tried to cross hers with a donkey.

Quick Facts

  • Grévy's zebra and the mountain zebra are endangered.
  • Zebra stripes are unique to each individual.
  • The stripes are typically vertical on the head and main body, with horizontal on the legs.
  • Zebroid are the offspring of zebra and donkeys.