Part of the Equidae family, zebras, are native to Africa and are closely related to horses, but they are not the same species. Zebras have three subspecies, the Grévy’s zebra, the plains zebra, and the mountain zebra. Let’s learn more fun facts about these black-and-white striped equines!
1. Zebra Stripes Are Unique Like Human Fingerprints
A zebra stripe is unique to the animal, meaning that no two zebras alike have the same stripes. Their stripes are unique to them as fingerprints are unique to a human. Although to the human eye, these stripes seem the same, these unique stripes help other zebras tell them apart in the wild! A zebra can track its family by the pattern type of its stripes.
The reason zebras even have stripes in the first place is for thermoregulation. The black stripes absorb heat from the sun and warm up zebras during the early morning, while the white stripes reflect more light and help them cool off while they stand and graze in the blazing sun of Africa all day.
2. They Can Communicate Nonverbally
Although zebras can make noises, they can also communicate with each other through various facial expressions and through the flicking and movement of their ears. They can also communicate through sniffing and widening their eyes. For instance, when zebras greet each other, they will stick their ears straight up and push their faces forward. However, when they are frightened, their ears push forward, and when they are angry, their ears pull backward.
3. They Can Sleep Standing Up
At night, zebras lay down to sleep to reach a deeper, REM state of rest. But if they are sleeping during the day, you can often find wild zebras sleeping while standing! This allows them to be alert if danger is nearby, allowing them time to run away quickly if a threat is approaching since getting up can often be slow and clumsy.
4. They Are Quite Big
Zebras are closely related to both horses and donkeys, meaning they are relatively big in size! Their size varies depending on their subspecies. The plains zebra is the smallest of the three, averaging at about 4 feet in shoulder height and weighing between 380-850 lbs. The mountain zebra is roughly the same in height as the plain’s zebra but can weigh up to 950 lbs. The Grèvys zebra is the largest of the subspecies, averaging at about 5 feet in shoulder height and weighing up to 992 lbs.
5. All Zebras Live In Africa
All zebras are native and currently live in Africa, however, the region varies depending on the subspecies. The Grèvys zebra prefers semi-arid grasslands and savannah habitats, found only in Ethiopia and primarily in Kenya. The mountain zebra can be found in southwest Africa and prefers dry, stony, and mountainous habitats. The plains zebra has the widest range, residing in east and southern Africa in treeless grasslands and savannahs.
6. They Are Herbivores
Zebras are not fussy eaters and eat both primarily and a wide variety of grass available in Africa. They can also be found eating leaves and trees at times. Because of this, they can range more widely throughout the county, unlike other animals in Africa, sometimes even residing or grazing in woodlands. While sometimes they may be found eating a fallen fruit from a tree, they mostly eat grass, leaves, twigs, and sometimes bark from trees.
7. They Can Camouflage
It may seem odd to think that zebras can camouflage because it is hard to think of an animal with black and white stripes that can easily hide in the wild. However, most of their predators, such as lions, are color blind. The pattern of zebra stripes is more important than the color since it blends in with the tall wavy lines of grass, easily camouflaging them right in the middle of the wild. If a zebra is standing still in the wild, a predator can overlook it because its stripes blend so easily with the grass, regardless of color.
8. They Are Very Social Animals
Zebras are extremely gregarious animals and are frequently observed in huge groups in the wild. A group of zebras may be referred to as a “dazzle” of zebras, a “zeal” of zebras, or simply a herd of zebras. Typically, each group has a leader known as a stallion, like a horse. Most of the zebra herd comprises females and their offspring.
9. They Can Run Fast
Zebras can run fast, and this is primarily because their predators are fast runners as well. They also run like horses, often galloping and pushing themselves forward from their hind legs. Their speed varies depending on their subspecies. The Grèvys zebra and the plains zebra run the fastest between 40-43 mph, and the mountain zebra can run anywhere from 35-40 mph.
10. They Are Endangered
Unfortunately, zebras are classified as endangered, and this is due to many factors, primarily due to habitat loss. Other factors greatly affect their conservation status, such as competition for livestock and poaching. They have disappeared from most of the former habitats, and very few are spread throughout Africa, the Grèvys zebra being affected the most. Starting in the 1970s, the population of the Grèvys zebra went from 15,000 to 2,000. They can now be primarily found in Kenya.
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.