Japanese Scientists Painted Cows to Resemble Zebras and Prevent Biting Flies

It worked.
Chris Young

Observers of a recent study might have been quite confused when they saw what was being done by a team of scientists.

The researchers painted a group of Japanese Black cows with white zebra stripes.

It turns out, confusing a specific type of tiny observer was the whole point of this experiment. Flies were shown to have their motion detection systems scrambled by the stripes.


Cow or Zebra?

In order to carry out their investigation, researchers painted six Japanese Black cows with Zebra-like black-and-white stripes. They then observed a group of cows, with and without the stripes, for three days. The findings were published in Plos One.

For their observations, the scientists took high-resolution photos of the cattle at different times. By examining the images, they were able to count the number of flies that were landing on the animals.

Other indications recorded by the scientists were how often the cows stamped their legs or moved their tails due to the flies bothering them.

As CNET reports, the number of biting flies observed on the striped cows was impressively less than half the number seen on cows that were not painted.

Japanese Scientists Painted Cows to Resemble Zebras and Prevent Biting Flies
Examples of experimental cows with/without painted stripes. Source: Tomoki Kojima/Plos One

"We found that painting zebra-like stripes on cows can decrease the incidence of biting flies landing on individuals by 50%," according to the study's findings," the study said.

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"We also found that the reduced landings of biting flies coincide with a reduction in defensive behaviors in cows."

A cheaper, less toxic option

The study shows that there might be a better option than the traditional means of repelling flies from livestock. The farming industry currently largely relies on using pesticides on animals to fight the problem.

"This work provides an alternative to the use of conventional pesticides for mitigating biting fly attacks on livestock that improves animal welfare and human health, in addition to helping resolve the problem of pesticide resistance in the environment," the study stated.

A small amount of paint to confuse the little flying pests is all it takes to fix this problem.

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