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Scientists have debated this most important question for 150 years. Theories have ranged from camouflage to throw off predators, to ways of signaling members of their species, and methods of regulating their temperature.1 But the most likely theory, according to research, is much less glamorous.2 It turns out that zebra stripes are a form of pest control: they protect zebras from biting flies. By comparing zebras to horses, their closest living relative, scientists found that horses were bitten by flies disproportionately more often than zebras under the same conditions, leading them to conclude that those amazing stripes are more than just decoration.
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