Introducing Zebra Cows

by Paige Francis
zebra cows.jpg

Painting cows to look like zebras sounds crazy, but it’s actually what scientists did at a research center in Japan. They did this experiment to try and find a solution to a pest problem that “plagues the agriculture industry.” (CBS News) Zebra’s unique pattern seems to give them protection from bug bites, and scientists wanted to know why. They decided to not use zebras, but test it on cows instead.

Zebras have confused scientists for a long time regarding how they got their stripes, and why they have them. They eventually came to a conclusion “The zigzag pattern was an evolutionary response to biting insects, especially carriers of deadly diseases.”(CBS News) Insects, it seems, have a harder time landing on striped surfaces than solid-colored ones.” Other animals, such as wild horses in Africa have stripes too, that have stripes don’t get bitten by insects. The scientists at  Aichi Agricultural Research Center got to work and started painting their cows to find out.

Using water-based spray paint, one group of cows was painted with white stripes, one was painted with black stripes, and a third control group didn’t have any paint on them. The cows got painted every morning with two-inch-wide stripes. After the cows were painted, the researches took pictures of the animals every 30 minutes, observing the flies that landed on them. Staff observed what the cows did to get the bugs off of them, like shaking their head, flicking their tails, and twitching their skin.

After the results came in, a solution to Japan’s agriculture issue will now be possible. The cows that had white stripes painted on them only had half of the bug bites that the other groups had. The cows with white stripes also appeared to be less stressed, displayed fewer head shakes, foot-stomping, and other insect-avoidant behavior. A report published in an online journal said that the Japanese scientists “suggest a promising, pesticide-free alternative to protecting livestock from biting flies - a menace which, according to one U.S. study, costs the beef and dairy industry more than $2 billion annually.” (CBS News)

This experiment is going to help Japan’s agriculture and hopefully the health of the cows. This will improve Japan’s agriculture as well because cows are producers of things like meat and milk. The cows will no longer be harmed from bug bites. Bugs can possibly carry diseases that could be transferred to cows which could make the meat and milk they produce unsafe to eat. Hopefully, painting the cows continues to be successful for the Aichi Agricultural Research Center and their cows are no longer harmed by bugs.