Christopher Plumb and Samuel Shaw Reaktion Books, 2018
Common and exotic, glamorous and ferocious, sociable and sullen: zebras mean many things to many people. But one facet of zebras universally fascinates: their stripes. The extraordinary beauty of zebras’ striped coats has ensured their status as one of the world’s most recognizable and popular animals. Zebra print is everywhere in contemporary society—on beanbags and bikinis, car seats and pencil cases. Many zoos house a zebra or two, and they are a common feature of children’s books and films. Zebras have been immortalized in paint by artists, including George Stubbs and Lucian Freud, and they even have a road crossing named after them. But despite their ubiquity, the natural and cultural history of zebras remain a mystery to most.
Zebra is the most comprehensive and wide-ranging survey ever published of the natural and cultural history of this cherished animal, exploring its biology and cultural relevance in Africa and beyond. Few know that there are three species of zebra (plains, mountain, and Grévy's), that one of these is currently endangered, or that among the many subspecies was once found the quagga, an animal that once roamed southern Africa in large numbers before dying out in the 1880s. Drawing on a range of examples as dizzying as the zebra’s stripes, this book shows how the zebra’s history engages and intersects with subjects as diverse and rich as eighteenth-century humor, imperialism, and technologies of concealment. Including more than one hundred illustrations, many previously unpublished, Zebra offers a new perspective on this much-loved, much-depicted, but frequently misunderstood animal.
Tim Caro University of Chicago Press, 2016 Library of Congress QL737.U62C38 2016 | Dewey Decimal 599.66571472
From eminent biologists like Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin to famous authors such as Rudyard Kipling in his Just So Stories, many people have asked, “Why do zebras have stripes?” There are many explanations, but until now hardly any have been seriously addressed or even tested. In Zebra Stripes, Tim Caro takes readers through a decade of painstaking fieldwork examining the significance of black-and-white striping and, after systematically dismissing every hypothesis for these markings with new data, he arrives at a surprising conclusion: zebra markings are nature’s defense against biting fly annoyance.
Popular explanations for stripes range from camouflage to confusion of predators, social facilitation, and even temperature regulation. It is a serious challenge to test these proposals on large animals living in the wild, but using a combination of careful observations, simple field experiments, comparative information, and logic, Caro is able to weigh up the pros and cons of each idea. Eventually—driven by experiments showing that biting flies avoid landing on striped surfaces, observations that striping is most intense where biting flies are abundant, and knowledge of zebras’ susceptibility to biting flies and vulnerability to the diseases that flies carry—Caro concludes that black-and-white stripes are an adaptation to thwart biting fly attack. Not just a tale of one scientist’s quest to solve a classic mystery of biology, Zebra Stripes is also a testament to the tremendous value of longitudinal research in behavioral ecology, demonstrating how observation, experiment, and comparative research can together reshape our understanding of the natural world.