10 amazing zebra facts

Discover fascinating facts about this stripy equine.

Hartmann's mountain zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae) is a subspecies of the mounta

Hartmann's mountain zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae) is a subspecies of the mountain zebra © Education Images / UIG / Getty


1. Name game

There are three species of zebra: Grevy’s (Equus grevyi), mountain (E. zebra) and plains (E. quagga), the latter of which is by far the most common. The plains zebra is divided into six extant subspecies (the quagga is an extinct subspecies); the mountain into two.


2. Speed demons

Zebras are very fast-moving animals, and can reach speeds of up to 65kmph when galloping across the plains. This is just fast enough to outpace predators such as lions. Foals can run with the herd within a few hours of birth.


Zebras can reach speeds of up to 65kmph © Hoberman Collection / UIG / Getty


3. Keeping cool

A zebra’s stripy coat is thought to disperse more than 70 per cent of incoming heat, preventing the animal from overheating in the African sun.


4. Stripe force

It's thought that a zebra's stripes serve to help camouflage the animal in long grass, and distract predators. Recent research also shows that a zebra's stripes may have evolved to keep biting insects at bay - the monochrome pattern seems to throw off the visual systems of flies.


5. Unique animals

A zebra's stripes act like an equine fingerprint - each individual’s pattern is unique. Foals recognise their mothers by the pattern of their stripes, as well as by scent and call.


A newborn zebra - foals are able to run with the herd within a few hours of birth © Hoberman Collection / UIG / Getty


6. Social lives

While Grevy zebra society tends to be fairly open, that of plains and mountain zebras is more tight-knit, with the animals living in harems of up to six breeding females and their young, with a dominant male. Each female has a place in the hierarchy. These groups are so close that if a predator injures one individual, fellow members will circle it and attempt to scare the intruder away with their teeth and hooves.


Grevy's zebra in Samburu National Park in Kenya © Wolfgang Kaehler / LightRocket / Getty


7. Sleeping on the hoof

Like horses, zebras sleep standing up, and usually only when in the safety of a group. 


8. Safety in numbers

For protection, zebra groups often come together in large herds, regularly mixing with other grazers such as wildebeest. As well as providing more eyes and ears to look out for danger, a large herd is confusing to a predator, making it harder to single out individual prey.


9. Migration marvel

One of the most extraordinary phenomena in the natural world is the annual 1,800-mile migration of millions of zebra, blue wildebeest and other antelope between the Serengeti in Tanzania and Kenya’s Masai Mara in a constant search of food and water.


Wildebeest and zebra try to cross the river without being attacked by crocodiles © safariLIVE / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media / Getty


10. Ancient horse-tigers

In Ancient Rome, Grevy’s zebra were trained to pull chariots at Roman circuses under the alias ‘hippotigris’ (‘horse-tiger’).


Read more wildlife facts in BBC Wildlife Magazine. Take a look inside the current issue, and find out how to subscribe

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