Are zebra foals striped since day one – or do they start wearing this iconic look well into their adult lives?!
Well – it seems, this grazing Savannah beauty was just born this way. And considering how much haute couture their sassy coats have inspired – we absolutely love them for it.
But here’s the deal…
Zebras may be famous for being characteristically black and white. But did you know a zebra’s contrasting stripes weren’t always so – well, contraste-y!
Turns out, the color of a zebra’s coat changes as they grow!
So, a baby foal is actually born with brown and white stripes.
Over time however – these stripes go from a brown or tan shade to a darker and darker one. Until of course, they are fully black.
So, let’s say, by the time they are 9 to 18 months of age, they just look like any other zebra.
Did You Know?Zebra moms have to be extra careful with their baby foals? That’s because, in a well-camouflaged herd, it is easier for predators – like the big wild cats of Savannah – to single out one odd member of the pack!
How Do Zebra Foals Look Different?
Compared to an adult zebra, foals have a more woolly coat – and light chocolate or russet stripes that are more pronounced around the head, neck, and legs. Unlike an adult zebra though, a baby foal has a more bushy mane that extends from just below its ears to the tail – and down the center of the belly. However, this horse-like feature starts to fall out and disappear in 3 to 4 weeks. And by the age of 5 months, the coat transforms into the more recognizable shorter hair and darker stripes seen in an adult zebra.
Learn More Fun Facts About Zebra Babies:
- A new-born foal usually weighs around 70 pounds at the time of birth.
- Thanks to their incredibly long legs, most zebra babies can actually stand up within 10 to 20 minutes of birth! Amazing right?
- Within an hour of birth, foals can even walk and start to run.
- A female baby zebra is called a filly; a colt if it’s a boy!
- A baby zebra can actually sense their mother through her distinctive coat pattern! As well as through her smell and sound.
So, What Are Zebra Stripes Really Made Of?
To understand why zebras stripes exist, we need a cellular lens into zebra-life.
And since we know how much big science words scare you – here’s the short, easy version:
- So, zebras have specialized cells called melanocytes
- Melanocytes are uniformly distributed throughout a zebra’s body.
- And the key function of these cells is to produce and transfer a chemical pigment called melanin around the skin. Which is a kind of natural dye.
- Over centuries, either by means of natural evolution or genetic mutation, it is possible for these cells to deposit melanin in particular patterns.
- So, in case of zebras, we are left with two shades of stripe-y surface-areas . Areas that have a lot of melanin turn black: and places where the Melanin doesn’t go, start to look white. (Remember, in scientific terms, white is not a distinct color but the absence of it!)
Meet Tira – the Famously Spotted Spotted Foal
It’s not everyday a young foal becomes a household name. But in 2019, one baby zebra shook the Internet.
Born in the Massai Mara Animal Reserve, Kenya – Tira had a rare and unique polka-dotted coat. This eye-catching foal was first spotted by, and named after, Antony Tira, a local Maasai guide.
Prompting a stampede of visitors to flock to the wildlife sanctuary just to get a glimpse of the young foal in flesh!
According to scientists, Tira’s unusual appearance is actually the result of a pigment disorder. A condition caused by a genetic mutation called pseudomelanism. Mutations such as these a productt of constant in-breeding and loss of natural habitat across Africa and beyond..
Unfortunately, foals born with unusual patterns of stripes are also less likely to survive. Remember, zebra stripes are there for a reason – including, as a protection against predators, parasites and the scorching African heat.
To read more about the purpose of zebra stripes, read our in-depth post here!
5 Incredibly Interesting Facts About Zebra Stripes
- No two individual patterns are the same. Kind of like human fingerprints! Pretty cool right?!
- The zebra pattern they wear for their life actually develops in the eighth month of embryonic development. That is, halfway through a 14-month gestation period!
- Different sub-species of the African zebra have different stripe patterns.
- According to scientists, stripes have a cooling and fly-repelling effect for zebras. And also act as a camouflage to help the animal escae predators.
- In fact, the true purpose of Zebra stripes has been a hot-bed of scientific debate since the time of Charles Darwin (and that’s like 150 years ago!)
To learn more about what old and new scientists think is the true evolutionary purpose behind zebra stripes, read our post here.
So once and for all..
Zebras are black equines with white stripes. Not the only way around`. And even though the color of their stripes is initially brown and darkens over time – the exact distinctive pattern remains the same – even well before they are born!
If you love learning new and fascinating stuff about the wildlife as much as we do, keep following our space, at @FluffyPlanet, for more news & updates!
Don’t forget to tell us which fun fact about zebra foals you you liked the most? Let us know in the comments below!