The word “zebra” instantly makes you think of those black-and-white stripes, right?! After all, this is their most distinctive and beautiful feature! Related to horses, these animals are fast runners, sociable creatures, and intelligent.
However, there’s much more to them! Scientists have been studying their behavior and lifestyle for some time now. But would you believe us if we told you they managed to link their poop to their population growth rate? Although it sounds incredible, zebra dung contains specific hormones that tell us so much about their physiology! Keep reading to find out what zebras eat, what their poop looks like, and how they became the subject of a major study!
What are zebras?
Zebras are related to horses. In fact, they are the largest wild horses! Their most distinctive characteristic is their black-and-white striped bodies. However, these patterns aren’t the same for all zebras, as they can vary from individual to individual.
Africa hosts three zebra species found in East and Southern Africa. They usually live in herds, grazing in open grasslands and plains.
- The Grevy’s zebra (Equus grevyi), also called the imperial zebra, lives in Eastern Africa in arid and semi-arid shrublands and grasslands. It is usually 8.2–9.8 feet long and has a 4.10–5.25 feet shoulder height. Grevy’s zebras weigh approximately 776–992 pounds. Their tails measure 15–30 inches long.
- The plains zebra (Equus quagga), also called the Burchell’s zebra or the common zebra, lives in the grasslands, open woodlands, and savannahs in Eastern and Southern Africa. It is 7.12–8.07 feet long and has a 3.61–4.76 feet shoulder height. Plains zebras weigh between 286 and 849 pounds. Their tails measure 19–22 inches long.
- The mountain zebra (Equus zebra) inhabits southwestern African mountains and rocky uplands. It is 6.9 – 8.5 feet long and has a shoulder height of 3.81 – 4.79 feet. Mountain zebra tails measure 16 – 22 inches long.
Zebras are sociable animals. They prefer to live in herds, so they have protection from predators. Still, even if they are alone, their high running speed helps them stay away from numerous predators. Zebras can achieve 24 mph when running. Their speed is attributed to their long, slender legs and narrow hooves.
What do zebras eat, and what eats them?
Zebras are herbivorous animals. Their primary food source (90% of their diet) is grass. The other 10% consists of leaves and buds. Zebras nibble the grass with the help of their sharp front teeth; then, they grind the food with their flat molars.
Zebras can fall prey to lions, hyenas, leopards, African wild dogs, and crocodiles. Their defense mechanism consists of alerting each other about the threat and running away in tight herds to confuse their predator.
Humans also affect the declining zebra population because they destroy zebras’ natural habitats.
What does zebra poop look like?
Zebras poop in numerous medium-sized round droppings. They can sometimes have a square shape. Zebra dung is usually dark brown or black. Healthy zebra dung should be hard and consistent and may contain traces of grass.
Zebras often poop in piles, and males use these dung piles to mark their territories. Some zebra scat piles may reach 16 inches in height.
What does zebra poop tell us about the animal?
Studying animal poop is extremely important because animals can’t really signal if they are in pain or if they feel that something’s wrong. In general, poop is an excellent way to tell whether an animal or even a human is healthy. Its size, consistency, contents, and color may indicate whether the digestive system is working properly or whether the diet needs to be adjusted.
Besides this, studies show that zebra poop can reveal the animal’s stress levels. How’s this possible?! Well, that’s not as difficult as it sounds! The fact is that zebra feces contain hormones called glucocorticoids. These hormones work hand in hand with the immune system by reducing inflammation and “removing” diseases from the body.
Moreover, this study on Cape mountain zebras shows that these hormones “have a primary role in energy balance and, at a secondary level, regulate the stress response.” The levels of these hormones change depending on the weather, food deprivation, and predator or human contact.
More than that, this study also focused on analyzing the androgen levels in zebras, which would help outline the development of “male physiological status.”
How can zebra feces influence population growth?
Analyzing males’ stress and androgenic levels can answer why the zebra population declines. First, high-stress levels can be caused by poor nutrition. In turn, poor nutrition can reduce female fecundity, directly impacting the population growth rate. The study showed that the population of Cape mountain zebras is smaller in places where the habitat isn’t as good for them.
So, in short, while for ordinary people, zebra poop is just zebra poop, for scientists, zebra dung is a whole field of study! They conducted fundamental research on their droppings that could substantially influence their population growth rate.
Zebra poop vs. camel poop
It’s extremely difficult to distinguish zebra poop from camel poop because they look almost identical. Like zebras, camels poop in piles of round droppings that are dark brown or black. One thing that could tell them apart is that camel poop may be much drier than zebra poop. Their bodies have adapted to extracting and assimilating all the water from their food since they rarely have fresh water sources.
Zebra poop vs. giraffe poop
Zebra poop resembles horse poop, while giraffe droppings resemble sheep droppings. Giraffe dung is smaller than zebra dung and has lighter shades. Moreover, giraffe scats have a dent on one side formed after the giraffe poops when it falls on the ground.
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