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Painting zebra stripes on cows would prevent insects from biting them

The classic method of ridding cows of flies is to use insecticides, but this is a toxic and expensive option. In Japan, researchers have found a strange but effective way to repel flies that doesn’t require any pesticides: painting cows with zebra stripes.

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Stripes disturb flies

According to a study published last October in PLOS ONE, when Japanese researchers painted zebra stripes on cows, the flies bothered them half as much as cows without stripes. The idea is that the stripes may indeed disrupt insect movement detection systems that monitor whether flies approach or land on the striped animal.

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For this study, the researchers painted six Japanese black cows with black and white stripes and then observed cows with and without painted stripes for three days. The researchers took high-resolution photos of the cattle at different times to count the number of insects that attacked the cows. They also observed the cows for leg banging, tail wagging and other physical behaviours that are common to repel flies.

50% fewer insect bites in zebra cows

Researchers continued to observe the striped cows to see if the paint components actually repelled the flies. According to the results of the study, the number of flies observed on striped cows was 50% lower than on unpainted cows. They also found that this decrease coincided with a reduction in defensive behaviour in the cows.

Currently, the livestock industry uses insecticides on livestock to control flies, but this research may prove that there is a less toxic, and perhaps cheaper, alternative to the use of chemicals. “This work offers an alternative to the use of conventional pesticides to mitigate biting fly attacks on livestock, which improves animal welfare and human health, in addition to helping to address the problem of pesticide resistance in the environment,” the study says.

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