Zebras are the distinctly striped four-legged mammals of the family Equidae and belong to the genus Equus. Other members of the genus include horses and wild asses.
These African equines with black and white stripes are a treat to the eye; with a body structure that looks similar to donkeys and horses, zebras stand out due to their characteristic striped coat which makes one wonder - are the zebras white animals with black stripes or black animals with white stripes? Well, the answer lies in specialized skin cells called melanocytes. The zebras are basically dark-skinned animals and the melanocytes give rise to the stripes on the animal's body. The melanocytes selectively transfer a dark pigment called melanin to some of the growing hairs of the zebra, giving them the black color. Hairs that do not receive melanin, remain white. The underlying mechanism of this is entirely genetic but it eventually gives rise to the dazzling white and black stripes on the body of the zebra.
With habitats primarily concentrated in the grasslands, plains, savannahs, and mountains of southern Africa and eastern Africa, these herbivores are worth all the attention. So, read on for more fun facts about zebras for kids!
If you like reading zebra facts, also check out interesting facts about the plains zebra and zonkey.
What do they prey on?
What do they eat?
Average litter size?
How much do they weigh?
440-990 lb (200-450 kg)
How long are they?
64-96 in (160-240 cm)
How tall are they?
51-75 in (130-190 cm)
What do they look like?
Black and white stripes on body
What are their main threats?
Humans and habitat loss
What is their conservation status?
Mountain zebra: Vulnerable Grevy's zebra: Endangered Plains zebra: Near Threatened
Where you'll find them
Grasslands, shrublands, savannahs, woodlands, mountainous areas
South and East Africa
Equus quagga, Equus grevyi, Equus zebra
Zebra Interesting Facts
What type of animal are Zebras?
Zebras are herbivorous odd-toed ungulates (animals with hooves). There are three zebra species that are extant - Grevy's zebra (Equus grevyi), plains zebra (Equus quagga), and mountain zebra (Equus zebra).
What class of animal do Zebras belong to?
Zebras belong to the class Mammalia, that is, they are mammals.
How many Zebras are there in the world?
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the number of mature individuals of the plains zebra (Equus quagga) is between 150,000-250,000, the number of mountain zebras (Equus zebra) stands at 34,979, and the Grevy's zebra (Equus grevyi) population is relatively low with only 1,956 mature individuals left worldwide.
Where do Zebras live?
Zebras live in a variety of arid and semi-arid regions including grasslands, savannahs, shrublands, woodlands, and mountainous areas.
What is a Zebra's habitat?
Zebras are strictly terrestrial and their habitats differ according to their species. There are three species of zebra - the plains zebras, the mountain zebras, and the Grevy's zebras.
The plains zebras prefer open woodlands, open grasslands, and open scrub environments and are mostly found in the vast swathes of open savannahs of southeastern Africa. The plains zebras have the highest population density in the Serengeti-Mara plains of Tanzania and Kenya. However, they avoid deserts, wetlands, and dense forests.
The mountain zebras roam the mountainous slopes and plateaus of southwest Africa and South Africa. The Cape Mountain zebra can only be found in South Africa and are known to live at elevations of up to 6,561.7 ft (2,000 m) above sea level where precipitation is regular. On the other hand, the Hartmann's mountain zebra occupies arid regions on the fringes of the Namib Desert where surface water is scanty.
The Grevy's zebras are confined to acacia savannahs and arid grasslands with a permanent water source. With a geographic range that earlier included vast stretches of eastern Africa, habitat loss has now confined them to areas of northern Kenya and small regions of southern Ethiopia.
Who do Zebras live with?
Out of the three zebra species, the mountain zebras and the plains zebras are social herd animals. Mountain and plains zebras live in stable and small family groups called harems that consist of one stallion, several mares, and their foals. These family groups tend to be nomadic, but have their individual home ranges. The stallions form the harems and grow them by taking in young mares. However, the death or absence of the stallion does not, in any way, affect the stability of the harem. Plains zebras are also known to live in a fission-fusion society - stable and temporary subgroups are created within a larger herd that allows individual zebras to interact with zebras outside the group. The Grevy's zebra, on the other hand, do not live in a herd system. The stallions of this species establish territories and the mares enter them to breed. Once the offspring are strong enough to travel, the mares leave the stallion's territory to continue a nomadic lifestyle.
How long do Zebras live?
The average lifespan of a plains or mountains zebra in the wild is 20 years. The Grevy's zebra, however, has a shorter lifespan in the wild, usually 12-13 years.
How do they reproduce?
While adult females of the mountain zebra and plains zebra species mate only with the stallion of their harem, individuals of the Grevy's zebra species are more promiscuous, that is, they have several mating partners. The female zebras have an estrus (sexually receptive phase) that lasts for about 5-10 days during which the male and the female zebras copulate to produce offspring. The gestation period varies with the species but it is roughly around 11-13 months. With slight differences between the species, the mating season of zebras lasts more or less throughout the year. But, regardless of the species, zebras produce on an average one offspring. Parental care in zebras is quite well-developed with the young ones being nursed for up to 8-13 months.
What is their conservation status?
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, the mountain zebra is Vulnerable with an increasing population trend, the Grevy's zebra is Endangered with a stable population, and the plains zebra is Near Threatened with a decreasing population trend.
Zebra Fun Facts
What do Zebras look like?
Zebras have a barrel-chested body, elongated face, a tufted tail, and a long neck with erect manes. Their legs are long and slender that end in a hoof-covered spade-shaped toe. Their forelimbs are comparatively longer than their hindlimbs. Like all other herbivores, the teeth of zebras are adapted for grazing - the incisors are large for clipping grass blades and the molars are ridged, with high crowns that are ideal for grinding purposes. In this respect, the male zebra is unique in having canines shaped like spades that are used as a weapon during fights. The eyes are located on the sides and stretch far up the head and their ears are erect and moderately long.
The most outstanding aspect of the physical appearance of a zebra is its white and black stripes. Zebra stripes are unique to each individual. If the legs and the belly are unstriped they are white but the muzzle (snout) is dark. Even the skin under the coat of the zebra is uniformly black. Regardless of the species, a zebra will have a line along its back that extends from the forehead up to the tail. The stripes develop a species-specific pattern on the rump (hindquarter). The stripes curve towards the nostrils near the nose and form complex patterns around the lower jaw and the eyes.
How cute are they?
A zebra may not be called 'cute,' but they definitely look elegant with their distinctive stripes which look like they have been created with the strokes of a paintbrush.
How do they communicate?
Zebras communicate with their own kinds via facial expressions and sounds. The lips of a zebra are quite flexible, allowing them to form complex facial expressions. Their visual modes of communication also include the position of the ears, head, and tail. For instance, a zebra lashing its tail or laying back its ears means that it is probably going to kick. Whereas, when male stallions threaten, they will typically flatten their ears, bare their teeth, and move the head abruptly.
Besides these visual displays, zebras are capable of making a wide range of noises. For example, loud snorting is an indication of alarm, and squealing means that the zebra might be in pain. While mountain zebras are pretty much silent, the plains zebras have a distinct, high-pitched 'bark' that sounds like 'a-ha, a-ha, a-ha.' The Grevy's zebra's call is more like a mix of the grunt of a hippo and the wheeze of a donkey. Zebras are also known to greet and bond by rubbing and sniffing each other.
How big are Zebras?
Depending on the species, zebras have slight variations in their size. On average, the body length of an adult zebra is between 64-96 in (160-240 cm). The average overall height of a zebra ranges between 51-75 in (130-190 cm). A typical zebra can be as tall as a 5-6 ft human.
How fast can Zebras run?
An adult zebra has an average top speed of 40 mph (64 kmph) when galloping.
How much do Zebras weigh?
With differences between the species, a typical adult zebra can weigh between 440-990 lb (200-450 kg).
What are their male and female names of the species?
A male zebra is called a stallion and a female zebra is called a mare.
What would you call a baby Zebra?
A baby zebra goes by the name of a foal.
What do they eat?
All species of zebra are herbivorous and mostly graze on grass. They may also browse on twigs, leaves, and herbs.
Are they dangerous?
Do not be deceived by the apparent calm of a zebra because they can be pretty dangerous and are more aggressive compared to horses. They are known for kicking their own kinds to death and there also have been reports of zebras turning hostile towards humans.
Would they make a good pet?
Zebras are not really people-friendly animals and are not fit for domestication like horses. Besides, the kick of a zebra can be quite deadly!
Did you know...
Like most other herbivores, zebras are afraid of carnivorous predators in the wild but are known to fight back by even kicking lions!
Male zebras are known to bite off each other's tail in their fight over a female.
The skin under the black stripes of zebras has concentrated blood capillaries that make those areas hotter. Little air currents form between the stripes to help cool down the zebra.
Different types of Zebra
Zebras are of three types - the plains zebra, the mountain zebra, and the Grevy's zebra. While all of them are found in south and east Africa, their individual geographic ranges vary. Further, their sizes vary with the Grevy's zebra being the largest of all, both in terms of height and body mass. Another distinction between the three types can be made on the basis of their stripes - the stripes of the plains zebra cover their sides and merge at the center of their bellies, mountain zebra's stripes stop at the sides and their bellies are white except for a single black stripe running through the center, and the Grevy's zebra's stripes thin at the rump and their belies are completely white.
Zebras vs horses and donkeys
Zebras are more closely related to donkeys and it becomes apparent with their similar stocky build and erect hair on the mane. The most striking difference between zebras and donkeys is that zebras have stripes and donkeys do not.
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other mammals including horse, or zorse.
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