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Joren Bruggink and Jai Lake investigate how horse flies behave around horses wearing different colored coats. Photo: Tim Caro/UC Davis

The next time you're looking to avoid getting bit by flies, you might want to try putting on zebra-patterned clothing.

Why it matters: A study published Feb. 20 in the journal PLOS ONE helps explain why zebras, with their prominent stripes, don't get bit by many horseflies. It sheds further light on a mystery that has puzzled scientists for more than a century: How did zebras get their stripes?

Tim Caro, a wildlife biologist at the University of California, Davis, and Martin How of the University of Bristol led experiments on a horse farm in Britain to observe flies' attempts to land on zebras and horses.

Background: Caro's previous research has shown that zebras are found in regions where biting flies are common and their stripes likely serve as a deterrent. The new study investigates how flies are affected by such stripes.

What they did: The scientists recorded close-up videos to determine flight trajectories as flies closed in on their targets. They also dressed the horses and zebras in black and white, as well as black-and-white striped coats, to see how the patterns and colors affected the flies' flight paths.

What they found: The study shows that the zebra stripes did not deter flies from trying to land on zebras when compared to horses. However, they saw far fewer touches and landings from biting flies, which can spread disease, than bare horses did.

  • Video analysis showed that horse flies approached zebras at faster speeds and failed to decelerate before hitting their skin. Proportionately, more horse flies hit zebras and simply bounced off when compared to horse fly approaches to horses, which involved more successful landings and bites.
  • The horses cloaked in stripes saw fewer fly landings on the striped portions, but there were no differences in landings and bites to their bare heads.

What they're saying: “Stripes may dazzle flies in some way once they are close enough to see them with their low-resolution eyes,” How said in a press release.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director says number of U.S. Omicron cases "likely to rise" — Two years of COVID-19 — Prior coronavirus infections may not protect well against Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: Data demonstrates most-vaccinated counties less vulnerable to worst of COVID — Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters.
  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate.
  4. World: Vaccine mandates lose steam in the U.S. while Europe doubles downWHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron — COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

Vulnerable Democrats: Less Trump talk

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Vulnerable House Democrats are convinced they need to talk less about the man who helped them get elected: President Trump.

Why it matters: Democrats are privately concerned nationalizing the 2022 mid-terms with emotionally-charged issues — from Critical Race Theory to Donald Trump's role in the Jan. 6 insurrection — will hamstring their ability to sell the local benefits of President Biden's Build Back Better agenda.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan tributes flood in for "giant of the Senate" Bob Dole

Then-Vice President Joe Biden and former Sen. Bob Dole at an event put on by the World Food Program at which he was awarded the first “McGovern-Dole Leadership Award” in December 2013. Photo: Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call

Republican and Democratic politicians, including former Senate colleagues, are sharing condolences and memories commemorating the life of Bob Dole, who passed away at 98 on Sunday morning.

The big picture: Dole, the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, was the longest-serving Republican leader in the Senate until 2018, when current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell surpassed his record.