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Paint Cows Like Zebras to Reduce Flies

For years, scientists have tried to answer the question, “Why do Zebras have stripes?” Theories included that stripes were good camouflage, that they were some kind of “air-conditioning” or a signal to herd mates. But lately, there’s growing agreement that it’s all about protection from biting flies.

The conclusions come as a result of a variety of studies. In one, Japanese scientists painted some cows with zebra stripes and some with black stripes, and compared the fly-biting results among the two groups and to cows that had no paint at all. They found that zebra-like stripes on cows decreased the incidence of biting flies landing on and biting cows.

Why Don’t Flies Bite Animals With Zebra Stripes?

We know that biting flies are attracted by odors, shape, movement, brightness, color, polarization, and body temperature. So why would stripes make any difference? It turns out scientists have been studying that too, comparing the success of fly traps painted solid black to those painted with white stripes, and even dressing horses in zebra coats to watch fly behavior.

Though they’re not sure yet, evidence suggests that the stripes confuse the fly’s motion detection systems. They approach their targets too fast and fail to decelerate as they normally would, so they hit the target and bounce off.

If you’re looking at these pictures and seeing an issue – you’re right. Unpainted faces of the animals are still susceptible to flies.

Of course the other issue is: “How do I paint my livestock?” I’m sure I’m not the only person thinking, “Hey, maybe I can create an easy template and sell it!” 🙂 Or, what if when you put your stock in the squeeze chute, you used the bars as your stencil and painted on white stripes?

I can come up with all kinds of solutions depending on your situation. 🙂 If you’ve got some ideas too, post them in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!


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