Scientists Are Painting Cows Like Zebras To Save The Environment

Kojima et al./PLOS ONE

It might not be the most dignified look in the world, but a new study has found it might be worth painting your cows to look like zebras.

Previous studies have shown that black and white stripes may protect zebras, other animals, and humans from horsefly bites, as well as other blood-sucking critters. Experiments have shown that these flies tend to avoid black-and-white striped surfaces, while other studies have suggested that the stripes may cause a kind of motion camouflage targeted at the insects' vision, confusing them much in the way that optical illusions like the Barberpole Illusion and the Wagon Wheel Effect (below) confuse us.

Now a study, published in PLOS ONE, has sought to find out whether this can be applied to cows. And good news, everybody, it very much can. Japanese researchers painted zebra-style stripes on one group of cows, black stripes (on black bodies) on another, and left other cows un-painted as control moos. 

The cows were then observed for fly-repelling behaviors (head throws, ear beats, leg stamps, skin twitches, and tail flicks) and the number of flies landing on their bodies was counted.

Levels of visible confusion and squeeeeeeee went up by at least 72 percent. Kojima et al./PLOS ONE

The zebra-cows were found to have over 50 percent fewer biting flies on their bodies than those in the control group, with no significant differences between the black-striped cows and the controls. They also saw a decrease in fly-repelling behavior in the zebra-striped cows of around 20 percent. Fewer biting flies were landing on them, and they were less bothered by them.

The team believes that if the results can be replicated, artifical stripes could be used as a better way to combat biting flies than traditional pesticides. As well as being cheaper, the stripes are non-toxic and healthier for livestock, as well as better for the environment.

"Biting flies are serious livestock pests that cause economic losses in animal production," the authors write.

"We found that painting zebra-like stripes on cows can decrease the incidence of biting flies landing on individuals by 50 percent. This work provides an alternative to the use of conventional pesticides for mitigating biting fly attacks on livestock that improves animal welfare and human health, in addition to helping resolve the problem of pesticide resistance in the environment."


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