Have you ever been browsing your TV channels and come across a group of zebras running freely across a grassland on National Geographic? Did you realize your knowledge of zebras is limited to Marty, the zebra from Madagascar? If that is the case, we have all the information you need to know right here- from what they eat to where they live.
Zebras are intriguing majestic animals that embody the phrase: All for one and one for all. They are social animals that call Africa home. As loyal as they are to each other, they are equally wary of humans and can be incredibly unpredictable. Their brilliant black-and-white striped coat distinguishes them from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Taxonomy And Habitat
The name “Zebra” started as “equiferus” which translates to “wild horse” in Latin. Zebras fall under the Perissodactyla order and belong to the Equidae family. They are African Equines that share the genus Equus with horses and donkeys. There are three living species of zebras: Grévy’s zebra, plains zebra, and mountain zebra.
Zebras are widespread in eastern and southern Africa where they usually live in treeless grasslands, savanna woodlands, and mountainous areas. They are absent from deserts, rainforests, and wetlands. Zebras are Africa’s most successful adaptable herbivores as different species inhabit different terrains.
Grevy’s zebras live in semi-arid grassland habitats in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Mountain zebras, as their name implies, inhabit rocky, arid slopes in Namibia and Angola. Plains zebras are the most abundant of the three zebra species and can be found in the grasslands of East Africa to the scrubby woodlands of southern Africa.
What Do Zebras Eat?
Zebras are strictly herbivores, meaning they derive their nutrition from plant material only. While they feed primarily by grazing on grass, they can also feed on twigs, shrubs, bushes, bark, shoots, and roots. In the wild, zebras can feed on fallen fruit as well. Zebras constantly eat throughout the day to maintain their digestive systems and often spend up to 18 hours a day grazing through a field of grasses. Since their diet exclusively consists of plant matter with little nutritional value, they need to eat more often to survive.
Zebra teeth are known as hypsodont teeth. Their front teeth are strong and make it easy to clip off the tips of grass and graze for hours. Their back teeth then crush and grind the food for efficient digestion. Since they spend so much time grazing, their teeth wear down over time which is why they continue to grow throughout their lives.
Zebras can eat up to 2.5% of their body weight per day which comes to about 15-20 pounds of food for an adult zebra. They have a single-chambered stomach that uses a process called hindgut fermentation to digest food daily.
While adult zebras feed mainly on grass matter, a young zebra gets its nutrition from its mother’s milk and will continue to nurse throughout its first year. Zebras fully mature at 3 to 6 years old and have a lifespan of around 25 years.
Fun fact: Zebras can survive without food for three days and five days without water. A herd of zebras can migrate up to 700 miles in search of water and better grazing pastures. Most zebras are considered nomadic, without specific territories.
What Is A Group Of Zebras Called?
A group of zebras is known as a herd, a zeal, or a dazzle. A dominant male, also known as a stallion, leads a dazzle and protects the group from other stallions or invading predators. Each family group of 5 to 20 individual zebras consists of one stallion, several mares, and their offspring. During certain times of the year, different groups gather together to form herds of up to several hundred, but the family groups stay together within these larger groups.
Zebras are social animals living in herds of up to a thousand individuals who are friendly among themselves. They are very protective of each other and have devised several tactics to defend themselves against potential danger or threats. When under attack, the zebras form a circle to fight off the predator by kicking and biting it. While the young ones are protected and safe at the center of the circle formed, the mature mares work together with the stallions against any threatening predator.
Do Zebras Have Feelings?
Zebras apparently experience a range of emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, and fear that is influenced by external factors such as hunger, thirst, pain, and fatigue.
Zebras openly communicate with each other through different facial expressions and sounds. They make loud barking or braying sounds as well as snorts or huffs. The position of their ears, how wide open their eyes are, or if their teeth are bared all mean something. If their ears stand erect, it shows they are calm and friendly, but it usually signifies trouble when they are flattened.
Zebras display a bared-teeth grimace as a greeting to others. This smile also prevents potential acts of aggression. Zebras also practice strengthening their bond by grooming each other. The next time you see zebras biting each other, they are probably getting a good scratch or having their loose hair pulled out by one another.
Stripes: White With Black Or Black With White?
There is no doubt that the black and white striped coat of zebras sets them apart from the rest of their Equidae family. Just like human fingerprints, each zebra has its own unique and distinct set of stripes. Different zebra species have different types of stripes, from narrow to wide. These stripes serve a social purpose and help zebras identify each other. Zebras generally have white coats with black or sometimes brown stripes. What’s even more interesting is that underneath their hair, zebras have black skin!
Do Zebras Like Humans?
Zebras are fascinating animals not only for their appearance but their social habits as well. They are unpredictable and more aggressive when compared to the rest of the other species of equines. They are very distrustful of humans or other animals that may pose a threat to them. Zebras are not friendly to humans and tend to avoid people in the wild.
Therefore, zebras need plenty of space when encountered in nature. Feeding a zebra in its natural environment is discouraged since approaching a herd is unsafe because you could be bitten or kicked. The next time you see zebras on a safari or at the zoo, it is better to give them space, keep your distance and admire their beauty from afar.