Put that bug zapper away. You won’t need that awful stinky chemical spray either. There’s an easier, more environmentally-friendly way to keep the bugs from biting this summer.
Just wear clothing with stripes.
Seriously, scientists at the University of California-Davis in the United States say that is the reason zebras and other striped animals have them.
The researchers examined several species of zebra, horse and ass, and have determined that the animals with stripes have evolved this way over time to keep pesky pests from gnawing on them.
The study, published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, says that the stripes are like a natural cloaking device, which confuses blood-sucking bugs such as tsetse flies, which the four-legged subjects must endure.
Lead researcher Tim Caro said that humans get confused when shown moving stripes on a computer screen, as there is a motion-dazzle effect, which confuses us.
Researchers have pondered why zebras have stripes for hundreds of years. Even Charles Darwin tried to answer that question as he wrote his famous theory of evolution. Originally, the stripes were thought to be for camouflage to hide from predators, or to keep cool from the hot sun. Some researchers thought the zebras could identify each other by the pattern of stripes.
However, the new research suggests the stripes actually have a more practical purpose, protecting the animals from bugs that bite and spread disease.
Flies and mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors, and having a pattern of light and dark stripes – such as the all too common zebra pattern – may actually ward off the flies. Researchers also found that zebras are more susceptible to fly bites, because their hair is shorter than other African animals. This explains why they have such visible patterns of black and white stripes.
Ironically, the very visible stripes use an invisible method of deterring the bugs from biting.
Black and white surfaces reflect different sorts of visible light, but they also reflect different types of polarized light, which human eyes can’t see, but the pesky pests can see.
It is this polarized light that warns the bugs off, as they can’t focus on the surface clearly enough to land on it. It’s like a fighter pilot trying to land on an aircraft carrier being tossed from side-to-side by choppy seas, without the aid of radar and other landing beacons.
The scientists didn’t just toss their animal subjects to the flies for fun, they say it could help tourists in hot countries avoid being bitten.
Caro suggests clothing with thin black and white stripes be worn to avoid being bitten by bugs this summer.
By wearing your own zebra-like t-shirts, or other clothing, you’ll reduce the likelihood of being attacked by mosquitoes and other blood sucking bugs.
Blood sucking pests aren’t just a nuisance, but they can spread disease and cause death in human populations.
In Canada, there were 108 confirmed cases of West Nile last year. In the United States, according to the American Centers for Disease Control (CDC), their preliminary data indicates there may have been 2,374 confirmed cases of West Nile in America in 2013.
Although about 80 percent of people that are infected with West Nile don’t show any symptoms, those that do may eventually die from the so-called ‘West Nile Fever’ which is a neurological disease that attacks the central nervous system.
Currently, there is no vaccine against West Nile, yet it is considered the most widely distributed vector-borne disease in North America.
So preventing mosquito and other blood sucking bug bites isn’t just to rid us of an annoyance brought on by the change of seasons, it could save lives.
However, wearing stripes won’t prevent that annoying sound as a bug buzzes by your ear.
Biting bugs are attracted by odor, temperature, vision and movement, says Caro. But vision is thought to be key during the landing response, he says.
So you may still swat at nearby flies, mosquitoes and pests as they fly past, because your scent, skin temperature or even your movement may attract them to you. However, they won’t be able to land on your now stripe-covered clothing.
And you won’t need to use stinky harmful chemical sprays, light funky smelling candles, or plug in those blue-purple glowing bug zappers anymore either.