The stripes of zebras have the capacity to protect the animal from insect bites and in a new study, scientists found that it can work on people, too.
Tribal communities in Africa, Australia, and Papua New Guinea are known to paint their bodies with monochrome shades as decoration or as markers of identity. However, the stripes might also be warding the horseflies that populate their homes.
A team of researchers led by scientists from Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary set out to find out how the black and white stripes of zebras might affect insects' interaction with humans. Their findings were published in the journal the Royal Society Open Science.
Black And White Stripes Repel Bugs
To explore whether zebra stripes can also protect humans from insects, the research team used three colored mannequins — dark, fair, and dark with white stripes. Each mannequin was coated with glue and left alone for four weeks in a meadow populated by horseflies.
Upon returning to the site of the experiment, the researchers counted the horseflies stuck on each mannequin. They found the ones that were dark brown with white stripes attracted the horseflies the least, with only a few insects stuck on the glue. The fair-skinned mannequin had twice the number of horseflies compared to the striped ones. The dark-skinned mannequins had 5.1 times more horseflies than the fair-skinned mannequins.
"We conclude that white-striped bodypaintings on brown skin have the advantageous effect of protecting against blood-sucking horseflies by making the skin surface less visually attractive to horseflies compared with homogeneous brown-skinned human bodies," the authors wrote in the study. "The attractiveness to horseflies of a white-striped brown human body surface is 50% lower than that of a homogeneous beige body."
Keeping Insect Bites Minimal
The study is significant because insect bites can spread diseases to humans. While clothing might not entirely ward off the bloodsucking creatures, Susanne Åkesson, a professor of zoology at the Lund University in Sweden and a co-author of the study, told CNN that color can affect how attractive a human can be to horseflies and other insects such as mosquitos.
"Do not wear black or dark clothes," she stated. "You should have light colors, white or beige."
Reflective materials should also be off-limits because they look too similar to water. Insects lay their eggs in water.