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zebra facts

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Zebras are perhaps the most visually stunning member of the equine family, which includes horses, donkeys, zebras and a variety of other species. Zebras are known for their black and white stripes. While some might think of the stripes as camouflage from predators, they actually repel flies! These stripes – are the zebras white with black stripes, or the other way around? In fact, zebras have black skin, so the stripes that cover their skin are white. Read on to learn more about the amazing zebra.


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taxonomic name

Zebras are large equines native to the grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa. They are the largest and most distinctive of the Mustangs, with black and white striped patterns on their bodies, and the exact placement of their stripes is unique to each individual. Three different species of zebras are found in Africa, the common zebra (also known as the plains zebra and Burchell's zebra), the Grevy's zebra (also known as the emperor's zebra), and the mountain zebra. Zebras are very sociable animals that can travel long distances in search of fresh grass and water, but they are severely threatened across most of their natural range due to increased human activity. Today, both the Grevy's zebra and the mountain zebra are considered endangered species. Although the common zebra has a wider range and greater numbers, some areas have experienced dramatic declines.

Zebras are members of the equidae family, which includes many species of horses. The most abundant zebra species is the plains zebra, known as Equus quagga. Two other species include the Grevy's zebra ( Equus grevyi ) and the mountain zebra ( Equus zebra).

what do zebras eat
The most abundant zebra species is the plains zebra, known as Equus quagga.

© Andrey Gudkov/Shutterstock.com


Horses, donkeys, and zebras are thought to share a common ancestor called Equestrian horse, which roamed the Earth 52 million years ago. This fox-like jungle animal has five toes and eats leaves and fruit. When the creature migrated to plains with fewer hiding places, it gained speed by running on its middle toe, which became more prominent as it evolved.

Because of the animal's other characteristics, such as eating grass, being faster, and being larger, it was given other names — Orohippus, Epihippus, Mesohippus, Miohippus, Kalabatipus, Parahippus, and Merychippus. They lost their toes, grew longer legs, and their teeth adapted to grazing.

From these ancestors was born the Dormer horse, the more direct ancestor of the modern horse. Three modern types evolved from Donohippus – the horse, the mustang, and the donkey/zebra/ mustang.

Zebra Teeth - Zebra showing teeth
As zebra ancestors evolved, their teeth adapted to eat grass.


types of zebras

Listed below are three species of zebra native to different parts of Africa:

  • Grevy's Zebra – The Grevy's zebra (Equus grevyi) is the largest species of zebra. It is named after Jules Grévy, but is also known as the emperor's zebra. Listed as endangered, it inhabits semi-arid grasslands and shrublands in parts of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.
  • Mountain Zebra – The mountain zebra (Equus zebra) prefers mountain, woodland or grassland habitats. There are two subspecies of the mountain zebra – the Cape mountain zebra (South Africa) and the Hartmann mountain zebra (southwestern Angola and Namibia). It is listed as vulnerable.
  • Plains Zebra – The plains zebra (Equus quagga) , the most common zebra herd, is native to East and South Africa and prefers open grasslands and savannah woodlands. It is listed as Near Threatened. The Burchell's zebra (Equus quagga burchellii) is a subspecies of the plains zebra, named after the English explorer and naturalist William John Burchell, found in the southern regions.

anatomy and appearance

Zebras are large animals designed for speed with their long thin legs and narrow hooves that help them reach speeds of up to 40 km/h while running. Like horses, they have only one toe on each foot, and they walk on tiptoe, protected by tough hooves. Their black and white stripes are unique to each individual and help them identify each other in the herd. Zebras have long necks and heads, which means they can easily reach grass on the ground, and a mane that runs from the forehead, down the back, and down to the tail. Their stripe patterns vary as the Grevy and Mountain zebras have narrower stripes with a white underside, while the common zebra has broad stripes that cover the entire body. Grevy's Zebra is not only the largest of the zebra species, but is also easily recognizable by its large, round ears.

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Distribution and Habitat

Zebras are animals that inhabit open grasslands and plains in eastern and southern Africa, where they spend most of their time grazing. The common zebra is the most numerous and has the widest natural range throughout East Africa, roaming the grasslands. Mountain zebras can graze on the montane grasslands of Southwest Africa, while Grevy's zebras are restricted to the dry and semi-desert steppes of Ethiopia, Somalia, and northern Kenya. Zebras have evolved to run very fast so they can escape dangerous predators, so they rely heavily on open plains for survival. Although the common zebra has been least affected, all three animals are at risk of declining populations due to the loss of natural habitats due to increased human activity.

Fauna - Zebra Passion
The common zebra has the widest natural range in all of East Africa, where it roams the grasslands.

Behavior and Lifestyle

Zebras are very sociable animals that roam the savannah in groups to protect themselves from predators. Grevy's Zebra occupies the herd more loosely than other species, with stallions (males) patrolling expansive territories of up to 10 square kilometers and mares (females) and their foals grazing freely, occasionally foraging together in small herds Food. Common zebras and mountain zebras have long lived in herds in their native areas, and these herds split into smaller family groups led by a dominant stallion and containing one to six mares and their young. Their strong social bonds can make them very affectionate with each other, often grooming each other with their teeth. During mating season, males fiercely compete for the right to mate with females, propping themselves up on their hind legs, kicking and biting each other.

What do lions eat - hunting zebras
Zebras are very sociable animals that roam the savannah in groups to protect themselves from predators.

© Andrey Gudkov/Shutterstock.com

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Zebras are relatively slow-developing mammals, and females don't start breeding until they are at least a few years old. After a long gestation period of 10 months to a year, the female gives birth to a foal, which is born with stripes and a mane, and a small patch of hair in the middle of the belly. Zebra foals can stand within minutes of birth, which is crucial to ensuring that they can escape to avoid predators. They can start eating grass after a week and are weaned at 11 months. Young zebras stay with their mother until they reach maturity around the age of three. At that point, males leave their natal group to join an all-male bachelor colony, while females stay with their mothers. These bachelors start challenging the dominant stallion in an attempt to take over the harem during mating season.

diet and prey

The zebra is herbivore, which means it only eats plant matter for the nutrients it needs to survive. The majority of a zebra's diet (actually about 90%) consists of a variety of different grasses and other plant matter, including leaves and shoots, from which they make up the rest. They nibble at the tough ends of grass with their sharp incisors and grind them up with flat molars on their cheeks. Because grass has little nutritional value, zebras must spend 60 to 80 percent of their day grazing. Common zebras are often seen drinking at watering holes on a daily basis. However, due to the drier, drier regions they inhabit, Grevy's and mountain zebras often go days without water. During the dry season, zebras can travel long distances to find fresh grass and water holes that have not yet dried up. Grevy's zebras can also drill into dry riverbeds to obtain groundwater. For a full breakdown of their diet, check out our "What do zebras eat?" page and read!

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what do zebras eat
Zebras are herbivores, eating mostly grass but also leaves, shrubs and bark.

© AZ-Animals.com

Predators and Threats

The zebra is a large and powerful animal that, despite being a herbivore, can run past many predators with ease. Zebras are preyed upon by lions, leopards, hyenas and African wild dogs as well as many other large predators such as crocodiles when crossing rivers or drinking water. Although a zebra's first instinct is to run away, zebras have been known to sometimes attack animals that threaten them by kicking and biting. However, when danger is spotted, zebras alert each other to the threat, and by fleeing their predators as a tight group, they often confuse or simply intimidate their attackers. The greatest threat to Africa's remaining zebra populations is the increasing human encroachment of their natural habitat, losing open plains for livestock grazing and clearing land for agriculture.

What do lions eat - lions hunt zebras
One of the zebra's most dangerous predators is the lion.

©Rostislav Stach/Shutterstock.com

Interesting Facts and Features

Even today, zebra stripes remain a mystery to science because they were once thought to confuse predators by camouflaging them into the natural light and shadow around them, making it difficult to stay focused once running in a herd. a single animal. The formation of the rear-end stripes of zebras varies greatly between the three species, with common zebras having horizontal stripes on the rump and Grevy's rump that curves upward. These patterns on their rear ends are thought to vary so much that members of the same group can easily identify individuals at the front of the group as they run. Like other stallions, zebra stallions curl their upper lip, which is thought to enhance their sense of smell. This so-called "horse laugh" is thought to be crucial for males to be able to sense when a female is ready to mate.

Zebra teeth - incisors
Zebra stallions curl their upper lip to enhance their sense of smell.

© Galovtsik Gabor/Shutterstock.com

relationship with humans

Due to the zebra's free-roaming nature and long distances, the increasing human presence around the world means that zebras have been affected by habitat loss across most of their natural range. However, one of the most interesting things about zebras for people is that because they are so closely related to other equines, including horses and donkeys, zebras have actually been able to mate with them. Zebras and donkeys produce a hybrid foal called the Zonkey, while zebras and horses produce the Zorse. Although the two species are not thought to mate naturally in the wild due to geographic differences, many individuals of Zonkey and Zorse now exist around the world. The belief that zebras have a natural protection against certain parasites has led to the breeding of horses and donkeys with zebras to produce animals with the features and size of a horse or donkey but with the strength and toughness of a zebra. However, like other hybrids, Zonkeys and Zorses are sterile and therefore unable to reproduce themselves.

Protect the status quo and life today

Today, the Grevy's zebra is listed as endangered by the IUCN and as such is at risk of extinction from its natural habitat in the future. Mountain zebras are listed as Vulnerable. Grevy's and mountain zebras are appearing in increasingly remote areas, and their numbers continue to decline throughout their natural range. The common zebra is an animal listed as endangered in the wild, and although they remain widespread and their numbers appear to be relatively stable, they, like other species, are threatened by habitat loss across much of their natural range, and for their hunted for meat and hides.

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more about zebras

  • Zebra Poop: Everything You Needed to Know
  • Okapi vs Zebra: What's the Difference?

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about the author

Abby Parks is the author of novels, plays, short stories, poems and lyrics. She has recorded two albums of her original songs and is a multi-instrumentalist. She manages a folk music website and writes about singer-songwriters, folk bands, and other music-related articles. She is also a radio DJ for folk music shows. As well as being a pet parent to rabbits, birds, dogs and cats, Abby enjoys hunting for animals in the wild and has witnessed some of the more exotic ones such as Puffins in the Farne Islands, Puffins in Chiloe Southern Pudu (Chile), penguins in the wild, and countless wildlife of the Rocky Mountains (bighorn sheep, goats, moose, elk, marmots, beavers).

Zebra FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

horses and zebras

Zebras may look like horses, but there are differences between the two animals. For one thing, zebras are more aggressive and irritable than horses. Also, they are noticeably different in color and smaller.

Are zebras herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Zebras are herbivores, which means they eat plants.

To which kingdom do zebras belong?

Zebras belong to the animal kingdom.

Which category do zebras belong to?

Zebras belong to the class Mammalia.

What phylum do zebras belong to?

Zebras belong to the phylum Chordate.

What family do zebras belong to?

Zebras belong to the equine family.

What order do zebras belong to?

Zebras belong to the order Perissodactyla.

What type of mulch does Zebras have?

Zebras are covered with hair.

What genus do zebras belong to?

Zebras belong to the genus Equus.

Where do zebras live?

Zebras live in eastern and southern Africa.

What type of habitat do zebras live in?

Zebras live in open grasslands and plains.

Who are the zebra's natural enemies?

Predators of zebras include lions, leopards and hyenas.

How many children does a zebra have?

The average number of babies a zebra has is 1.

What interesting facts about zebras?

A zebra's stripe pattern is unique to everyone!

What is the scientific name of the zebra?

Zebra's scientific name is Equus zebra, Equus quagga or Equus grevyi.

What is the lifespan of a zebra?

Zebras can live 20 to 30 years.

What is the name of the little zebra?

Baby zebras are called foals.

How many zebras are there?

There are 3 types of zebras.

What is the biggest threat to zebras?

The biggest threat to zebras is habitat loss.

What is another name for a zebra?

Zebras are also known as mountain zebras, common zebras, plains zebras, Burchell's zebras, or Grevy's zebras.

How fast is a zebra?

Zebras can travel up to 25 miles per hour.

Will a zebra beat a giraffe in a fight?

A giraffe would win a fight with a zebra. A giraffe weighs almost three times as much as a zebra, and all that weight comes with far more strength. The giraffe either injures the zebra with its bone cone, or knocks the zebra out, and then the giraffe kicks the zebra to death.

Who would win a fight between a lion and a zebra?

Lions win the fight against zebras.

What is the main difference between okapi and zebra?

The main differences between okapi and zebra are size, appearance, habitat, predators, diet and behavior.

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  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animals, The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) Encyclopedia of World Animals
  3. David Burney, Kingfisher (2011) The Animal Encyclopedia of Kingfishers
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) Atlas of Threatened Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Animal Encyclopedia
  7. David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) Encyclopedia of Mammals
  8. General Zebra information, available here: http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/41013/0
  9. About the Mountain Zebra, available here: http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/7960/0
  10. Grevy's Zebra Conservation, available here: http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/7960/0