Painting 'Zebra Stripes' on Cows Wards Off Biting Flies
October 8, 2019 9:24 PM   Subscribe

Animal scientists have long pondered the function of zebras' dsitinct stripes, and a growing consensus now suggests that they deter insects, possibly by confusing bugs' motion detection systems that control approach and landing. They applied stripes to cows.
posted by hippybear (25 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Razzle Dazzle! Not just for U-Boats anymore.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:04 PM on October 8 [5 favorites]


Zebra fly rugs (aka 'fly sheets') for horses work on the same principle.
posted by cenoxo at 10:09 PM on October 8 [3 favorites]


Genetically modified to just have stripes in the first place in 3...2...
posted by sexyrobot at 10:46 PM on October 8 [2 favorites]


I'm convinced that the fly deterrence effect is real, but it's interesting how similar the argument that stripes confuse the flies' visual system is to a previously popular explanation to the effect that when zebras were running in a herd, the striping made it harder for pursuing predators such as lions to see where one zebra left off and another began, and therefore functioned as a predator evasion strategy.

In fact, those two explanations don't seem to me to be necessarily mutually exclusive, and if that's so, in order to say what the stripes are more 'for', a case would have to be made as to which benefit the stripes confer would exert the strongest selective pressure.

The extinct quagga, which had stripes only on the front half of the body and none on the rear where switching tails could discourage flies, argues for the flies.
posted by jamjam at 11:20 PM on October 8 [11 favorites]


I've posted about this on facebook, and one of my friends says that a striped shirt worked for her to discourage biting flies.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 11:38 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]


Words cannot describe how happy it makes me to have rushed here and seen the very first comment echoes what immediately popped into my mind upon reading the article.   Please oh please oh pleeeeeease give me Dazzle Camouflaged cows.

Really now, is that so much to ask?
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 12:04 AM on October 9 [4 favorites]


I forgot I once read that zebra skin is very difficult to tan and really cannot be made into functional leather goods because it has a tendency to tear into hand-sized chunks under not much stress — which could be taken as an indicator that predator evasion mechanisms are being strongly selected for, perhaps.
posted by jamjam at 12:14 AM on October 9 [4 favorites]


I'm sure they considered this, but although they tested for for paint stripes (by painting black stripes) they didn't (seemingly) test for colour by painting the whole cow white.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 1:32 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]


Sorry to milkshake-duck this, but is RealClearScience related to RealClearPolitics, the “impartial” news site which secretly runs far-right meme pages on Facebook?
posted by acb at 1:36 AM on October 9 [14 favorites]


Painting at least a few of them grass green would have been worth a go as well, surely?
posted by flabdablet at 1:36 AM on October 9 [4 favorites]


Sorry to milkshake-duck this, but is RealClearScience related to RealClearPolitics, the “impartial” news site which secretly runs far-right meme pages on Facebook?


Yes, it definitely is. I wish I hadn't clicked on the article.
posted by mmoncur at 2:49 AM on October 9 [8 favorites]


Here's the article from PLOS One, which has a very readable abstract. And coverage from CNN
posted by ambrosen at 3:08 AM on October 9 [12 favorites]


Having worked with white/gray horses in the past, I doubt solid white would make much difference to biting flies
posted by brilliantine at 5:20 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]


@just this guy, white cows are already a thing (Charolais cattle, for example, are pretty common in the US), and they have just as many issues with flies afaik (source: grew up on a farm/ranch, raised lots of Charolais and Black Angus, no noticeable difference on the fly front), so it's not the color that makes the difference.

The original study can be accessed here for anyone who wants to read it but doesn't want to go to RealClearScience
posted by MartialParts at 7:35 AM on October 9 [2 favorites]


When I was younger, the dairy farmer up the road paid me to spray paint the word "COW" in bright orange on the side of his cows.

The idea was to prevent hunters from shooting them, then claiming that they "thought it was a deer."

And yet, cows were still shot. I guess these hunters just thought they were very clever deer.

I don't know if this would work with flies.
posted by Marky at 8:11 AM on October 9 [11 favorites]


For a start you'd need to paint in much smaller letters.
posted by flabdablet at 8:16 AM on October 9 [12 favorites]


[Replaced the original RealClearScience link with the PLOS One link, with poster's permission.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:21 AM on October 9 [11 favorites]


Can't help but think this idea came from research done on Zebras

Why Zebras Have Stripes
posted by BadgerDoctor at 8:30 AM on October 9


The all white cows would have been for experimental control, not because they thought it would work.
posted by hypnogogue at 10:32 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]


Having spent time as a youth backpacking in black fly country, I now really, really want to see whether zebra stripe hiking gear can deter those little bastards from biting ME as well...
posted by caution live frogs at 11:22 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]


And yet, cows were still shot.
Another reason for Dazzle Camouflaged cows. Probably would work better against hunters than against flies.
posted by MtDewd at 1:14 PM on October 9


will this work against mosquitos? asking for me.
posted by numaner at 1:34 PM on October 9


The extinct quagga, which had stripes only on the front half of the body and none on the rear where switching tails could discourage flies, argues for the flies.

Then there's the okapi, aka 'zebra giraffe' (WP), with wavy stripes on its forelegs and hindquarters but a rather poor flyswatter tail (rear view). This might help with predator evasion.
posted by cenoxo at 7:53 PM on October 9


We're missing the real important finding here which is that flies are stupid.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:40 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]


We're missing the real important finding here which is that flies are stupid.

Evolution is parsimonious, and at some point, a neuron that detects repeating changes in brightness emerged as the sort of nifty hack that solves 90% of the problem with 10% of the effort.
posted by acb at 1:52 AM on October 10


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