Photo: Zebra herd vocalizing

Prey for lions and hyenas, zebras are constantly on the lookout for danger.

Photograph by Chris Johns

Map

Map: Zebra range

Zebra Range

Audio

Fast Facts

Type:
Mammal
Diet:
Herbivore
Average life span in the wild:
25 years
Size:
Height at the shoulder, 3.5 to 5 ft (1.1 to 1.5 m)
Weight:
440 to 990 lbs (200 to 450 kg)
Group name:
Herd
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Zebra compared with adult man

No animal has a more distinctive coat than the zebra. Each animal's stripes are as unique as fingerprints—no two are exactly alike—although each of the three species has its own general pattern.

Why do zebras have stripes at all? Scientists aren't sure, but many theories center on their utility as some form of camouflage. The patterns may make it difficult for predators to identify a single animal from a running herd and distort distance at dawn and dusk. Or they may dissuade insects that recognize only large areas of single-colored fur or act as a kind of natural sunscreen. Because of their uniqueness, stripes may also help zebras recognize one another.

Zebras are social animals that spend time in herds. They graze together, primarily on grass, and even groom one another.

Plains (Burchell's) zebras are the most common species. They live in small family groups consisting of a male (stallion), several females, and their young. These units may combine with others to form awe-inspiring herds thousands of head strong, but family members will remain close within the herd.

Zebras must be constantly wary of lions and hyenas. A herd has many eyes alert to danger. If an animal is attacked, its family will come to its defense, circling the wounded zebra and attempting to drive off predators.

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