Zebras are unique single-hoofed mammals commonly found in the wild. They are native to Africa and are classified under the same genus, Equus, as donkeys and horses. Most known for their distinctive coat patterns, zebras are also recognized for their social nature, as they are animals that travel in herds.
Zebras are social animals that travel in herds that consist of a stallion with several mares and their offspring. Herds will usually move at the pace of the slowest zebra so that the sick or injured do not get left behind. Zebras can often be seen grooming each other, and the herd will protect each other from predators.
This article will discuss zebras’ social structure and some essential facts you need to know about them.
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Zebras commonly have coats of white stripes next to brown or black lines, ending either at the inner side of their legs or bellies. Zebras have black skin under their coats.
Zebras are classified into three species: Mountain zebra, Grevy’s zebra, and the most common of the three, the Plains zebra. Each species has a different stripe pattern. For instance, the Grevy’s zebra possesses skinny stripes, while the mountain zebra has horizontal lines on its haunches but vertical ones on its torso and neck. Other subspecies of the Plains Zebra almost have brownish “shadow” stripes found between their black stripes.
These stripes make their appearances striking and unique, and they also make zebras appear unattractive to smaller predators like bloodsucking horse flies – an insect that can spread disease.
Zebra stripes may also serve as a natural protective barrier against the sun’s harmful UV rays.
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Zebras have different ways by which they can communicate with each other, and one of these is their facial expressions. Zebras can often be seen showing bare teeth or wide-open eyes.
Zebras also use sound to communicate. They can often be heard snorting, braying, huffing, or barking to communicate. The position of their ears can also signify what they’re feeling at the moment, with flattened ears conveying trouble.
How social are zebras?
Zebras are considered social animals as they often spend most of their time in herds. These animals graze together, mostly on grass, and can even be seen grooming each other.
Both mountain and plains zebras reside in family groups led by a stallion, with several mares and their offspring. The groups are known as harems, and these family groups sometimes combine to make formidable herds that are thousands of headstrong. Even so, family members remain close within their herds.
Zebras’ social behaviour is evident by its lagging or lost members may often be led back to the group. They also practice social grooming where they mutually clean one another’s mane and throat, nibbling and scraping at their shoulders, sides, and back.
Zebras show affiliative behaviour by standing head-to-tail or looking over each other’s shoulders. They can often be seen resting their head on their partner’s back and performing unique greeting ceremonies simultaneously.
Zebras perform naso-nasal contact when acknowledging non-familial zebras, while some nuzzle or sniff one another. Stallions often leave their family groups at specific points of the day to interact with nearby males in other groups.
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Why do zebras live in herds?
Zebras live in herds because of the security it brings. Being in a pack gives them many eyes and ears, alerting them to any danger present. Zebras need to be constantly aware of the danger of predators, including hyenas and lions.
Forming a herd gives them a way to avoid unwanted situations. If a zebra is attacked, its family will immediately come to its defence, circling and shielding the wounded animal while attempting to drive off other predators. As zebras like to reside in groups, this makes them difficult prey.
Family members look after and care for one another, and the group’s movement is usually held up for the weak, injured, or sick.
Zebras usually make vocalizations interpreted as either greetings or alarms. Foals and adults often make these sounds, and family members typically recognize one another from their sounds.
Harem members often perform antipredator behaviours where harem members form close associations and stand their ground whenever there’s a predator nearby. In this scenario, the family members and the mothers protect their young while hiding behind other harem members.
The stallion leads the active defence, but the mother can initiate an attack if the predator captures the foal. Zebra’s tight-knit social groups make their strategies very successful against many predators.
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Do zebras have a family structure?
Zebras follow a specific family structure to maintain the harmony and functionality of their family groups. They have two basic family structures. Mountain and plains zebras live in close, stable family groups or harems consisting of a single adult stallion, several mares, and their offspring. These groups have their respective home ranges that overlap, but they are nomadic.
Stallions expand and form their harems by constantly recruiting young mares from their birth harems, ensuring the group’s stability long after the family stallion dies or gets displaced.
Mares stay within a single group after reaching sexual maturity and rarely move to other groups. This is not forced by the stallion leader, with mares remaining in the group after the stallion’s death.
Plains zebra groups also live in a fission-fusion society. While many harems reside close, the herds tend to live independently. However, they may merge randomly throughout the year before splitting up again.
Mares benefit most from this type of family structure since it protects them from harassment by outside males and the chance to defend and feed their young.
A linear dominance hierarchy occurs among the females in a harem based on their time with the group. Harems often travel in a constant filing order, with high-ranking mares and their respective offspring leading the groups. The next-highest ranking mare and offspring follow this, and so on.