There is no doubt that zebras are some of the most exotic creatures to walk the planet. Like horses, these beautiful animals are high-spirited, full of energy, and love to roam the African plains freely.
Zebras are prey animals and need all their senses to stay alert and alive. Zebras have excellent sight and can see at night as well as owls. Their sense of smell and taste is similar to horses, as is their hearing. While their senses are excellent, unfortunately, they don’t match up to their predators.
To truly understand these unusual animals, you should know how they perceive their environment. Below, we take a detailed look at each of the five senses of the zebra.
Zebras are social animals. Find out more in this article I wrote
How well can a zebra see?
Zebras have exceptional eyesight and can see well during the day and night. A zebra is a prey animal and relies on its senses to protect itself. Zebras have a wide field of vision as their eyes are set back in the skull. This gives them a binocular vision to the front, with blind spots directly behind the head.
Zebras’ sight excels at night, especially if there is movement. Zebras have night vision equivalent to dogs and owls. Zebras’ main predators are lions, cheetahs, wild dogs, and crocodiles. Unfortunately, their predators may have the edge for nocturnal vision. It is also believed that zebras can see in colour, although with a muted palette due to the lack of red cones.
How well can a zebra hear?
Zebras have large-rounded ears that can capture the slightest sound. Their ears are similar in structure to horses. Zebras can rotate their ears to hear noises all around them.
Sound plays a huge part in the social life of zebras. Zebras, like horses, use sound to communicate. Mothers will warn their foal of danger, while males will squeal or neigh to show their interest in a female.
Zebras can communicate over long distances, and sounds are usually greetings or alarms. Zebras can identify others from their sound, especially with family members.
There are some obvious differences between zebras and horses but many more that you may not know. Find out more here
What is a Zebra’s sense of taste like?
Zebras’ taste buds are sensitive enough to detect subtle changes in mineral content in water. Their excellent sense of taste helps to protect them from consuming anything toxic. Zebras have very long tongues, about twelve inches long. Although it is unknown how many taste buds a zebra has, horses and their closest relatives have about 25,000. Humans, by comparison, have 10,000.
Zebras are herbivores which means that their diet is plant-based. They eat grass and have adapted to eating dry grass with very few nutrients. Their acute sense of taste helps them find the food they need even when the climate proves challenging.
Each type of zebra has its preference when it comes to grass. The Cape mountain zebra and Hartmann’s mountain zebra eat a lot of tufted grasses. They also love turpentine grass, red oat grass, black speargrass, and bottlebrush grass.
Plains zebras feed on short young grasses. They are also partial to saw-tooth love grass, Bermuda grass, red oat grass, and African foxtail grass.
Grevy’s zebras love the taste of coarse grasses. They enjoy fountaingrass and goosegrass.
How good is a Zebra’s sense of smell?
There is varying information on how good a zebra’s sense of smell is. While it is certainly not as sharp as some of their predators that stalk the plains and mountains of Africa, it is excellent. Zebras can detect the scent of predators in the wind, and you may see the herd running away depending on the animals they can smell.
Zebras can also detect smoke. Prey animals will do everything to keep themselves safe. Smoke may mean that the grasslands are on fire and the herd needs to move.
Smell also helps the herd keep track of each other and their neighbours. Faeces and urine contain details, including the social order of the herd.
You may think that zebras are as tame as horses, but they aren’t. Find out more here.
What is a Zebra’s sense of touch like?
When you think of the sense of touch, you may think of fingers and hands; however, zebras are extremely tactile. A zebra may nuzzle another zebra. They may also lick humans if you are lucky enough to experience it. A zebra nuzzles when it rubs its nose and mouth against another zebra.
Zebras nuzzle to show affection, bond and connect with the herd members. Zebras are highly sociable creatures. A zebra foal may nuzzle its mother for comfort. Nuzzling also decreases the stress levels of zebras, something needed for a prey animal.
Nuzzling is also used as a persuasive tactic. A zebra may nuzzle to push another zebra to go in a particular direction.
Did you know that zebras sometimes kill foals? Find out why here
Other than their five senses, does a Zebra have any other defence?
As a prey animal, a zebra’s senses work together to provide its best chance of survival. However, do they have any other defence mechanisms? Zebras are not defenceless. Zebras use their back legs to deliver a mighty kick. It can damage or stun their predators, giving them a chance to escape.
Their stripes are an effective camouflage that allows them to deceive their predators. Zebras often work together to protect the new foals and the elderly, often seen forming a protective circle around them. They often travel at a comfortable pace to leave no one behind.
Zebras are also good runners. They have lots of stamina and can run at about 30 miles per hour, allowing them to get away from some predators.
A zebra’s senses are generally acute, in keeping with them being categorised as a prey animal. However, often their predators have the sensory advantage, especially at night. However, zebras do have some defence.
Zebras migrate every year but do you know why? Find out more here