I just found one of the best sentences I ever read on wikipedia:
It was previously believed that zebras were white animals with black stripes, since some zebras have white underbellies. Embryological evidence, however, shows that the animal’s background color is dark and the white stripes and bellies are additions.
So are horses zebras that don’t have stripes? Or are zebras horses with stripes?
The former, apparently, probably to some people’s surprise. Basically, the proto-horse (a word I am delighted to get to use in seriousness) was a striped animal living on plains presumably roughly around the same areas the zebras live now.
The ass moved north into the desert first, the zebra’s evolved where they were, and another branch went to colder climes.
It’s more complicated than that, but basically, the ass had no need for stripes (less predation, less socialisation) so they slowly bred out.
The horses that went colder found that heavier shaggy fur was more helpful than being able to pick out your friends from a long distance, so they to bred out the stripes.
This is a gross simplification, based on five minutes of wikipedia research, but you get the drift.
So basically, treated in utter serious and ignoring the rudeness of the wording, a zebra is a retarded horse, in that it’s a horse that didn’t lose it’s stripes. A retro horse, if you prefer, or a throwback.
But they’re all Equus together, really. So they’re still cousins.
And surely (I’m out of my depth here) an ‘equal amount’ of evolution has taken place for all the horses/zebras/asses alive today. They’ve shared as many generations of change and shifting since the fox sized ancestor started getting bigger.
So nothing is more retarded than anything else.
Anyway, those stripes are pretty impressive.
They not only work as social identification, like a kind of barcoded business card for friends (this is more efficient than my method of recognising people I know, which seems to be based on haircuts more than anything..I’m terrible), but also for confusing lions (which are colour blind and so think they are long grass, apparently..King of Beasts indeed) and warding off Tsetse flies (I just use some citronella, but then, I don’t think my flies are particularly Tsetse).
It also makes them look like they are one huge animal when they are in a herd. I imagine a load of them uniting like a power ranger megazord of some time (I can’t believe I kept the word megazord in my head all this time, just in case).
That’s pretty impressive. (The zebras, not my memory).
And, as every school child knows, zebras are cool, because they are stripy.
Stripes are fun to draw, easily recognisable, and totally simplifies things for the teacher (‘is that a horse?’ ‘no, it’s a lion, how dare you insult my artistic integrity.’)
Also, zebras seem more likely than horses to have those punky looking mohawk things.
So it’s a fact.
Zebras are the coolest equus.
Illustration by Anna-Kaisa.