What Is the Difference Between Zebra and Tiger Stripes?

By Betty Lewis

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Even though they both have stripes, there's no mistaking zebras and tigers. The closest these two animals will ever get to meeting is perhaps in a zoo, as they live on different continents. Unfortunately for both these animals, their coats make attractive targets for hunters who prize their pelts.

What's a Zebra Stripe?

With a zebra, it's pretty much black and white, though it's hard to know if those are white stripes on a black background or black stripes on white. It depends on your point of view as to whether the stripes are black, white, or sometimes even brown. Most zebras are white in the areas where the stripes end, however some are born with a genetic mutation giving them a black background. Plus, zebras are born with black skin under their hair, so it's difficult to know what's the background and what's the pattern on a zebra.

Tiger Colors and Stripes

There's no question about which is the stripe and what's the background on a tiger. Tigers stripes can vary in color from pure black to light brown and stand out on their coats, which include deep reddish-orange, light yellow-orange and white. While you'd find black skin under the zebra's hair, if you shave a tiger, you'll find the same pattern in his skin that's shown on his fur.

Helpful Zebra Stripes

The zebra's stripes are much like your fingerprints, forming a pattern unique to each zebra. Different species of zebras have similar basic patterns. Grevy's zebras have the thinnest stripes, running to their belly; mountain zebras have fewer vertical stripes, widening as they reach the haunches; some plains zebras have brownish stripes between their black stripes. The unique patterns may help zebras identify each other but scientists have long thought the stripes help zebras hide from predators, allowing them to blend in with the tall grass surrounding them. The stripes also may serve as a distraction to predators; zebras travel in large herds and scatter when threatened. The blur of a group of moving stripes makes it difficult for a lion to pick out an individual zebra from the pack. Most recently scientists have learned those striped coats also serve as good insect repellent. The black and white stripes disrupt light patterns horseflies and tsetse flies use to find food and water.

Useful Tiger Stripes

Tigers stripes are also useful for camouflage. Tigers live in grasslands and forests, and despite the color differences between their fur and environment, their coats allow them to blend. They aren't hiding from predators -- people are the only real threat to tigers -- but they don't want their prey to see them. Most animals they need to hide from don't distinguish color differences to the extent humans do, so tigers can blend quite well into their surroundings. Like the zebra, no two tigers have the same stripe pattern and the density and type of stripes varies according to the species of tiger. Most tigers have more than 100 stripes.

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