What color are zebras?


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What color are zebras?

In this Tiny Expedition, we start with an age-old question. Are zebras white with black stripes or white with black stripes?

Greg Barsh, MD, PhD, is the resident expert on animal morphology at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, and he has a definitive answer.

“Zebras are black with white stripes.”

How is he so sure?

Barsh explains, “The reason we know that is…some of the early work we did on zebras was a collaboration with an owner of a zebra. We visited her once, and we asked her that exact same question.”

The collaborator shaved a little hair away and revealed that zebras have completely black skin. 

Dorsal Stripe of a Dun Horse

Zebras aren’t alone in their stripiness though. Most equids—relatives of the horse—have some kind of striping. The primary exception is the modern domesticated horse. Only dun horses, a small minority of domesticated horses, still feature some striping.   

However, equids all come from a common ancestor, meaning at some point domesticated horses had stripes…and lost them. 

To learn about how domesticated horses lost their stripes, the unsolved mystery in biology it could help solve and how it links to modern medicine—listen to Tiny Expeditions Episode 3: What Color are Zebras?

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