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Zebra Facts

Size 43-62 inches (110-160 cm) (shoulder height)
Speed Up to 25 mph (40 km/h)
Weight 390-990 pounds (180-450 kg)
Lifespan 20-30 years
Food Plants
Predators Lions, hyenas, leopards
Habitat Tropical Africa
Order Odd-toed ungulates
Family Horses
Scientific name Equus grevyi, zebra and quagga
Characteristics Striped horse

Main Characteristics

Zebras belong to the horse family. Their most striking feature is the black and white stripes in their fur. In search of grass and water, they form large herds and undertake long migrations across the African savannah. Unlike horses, they cannot be tamed.

Zebra Photo: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek/Shutterstock


The name zebra derives from the word zebros. It comes from the Portuguese, Italian or Spanish languages. Zebros was the name for black-striped wild horses that lived in the south of Portugal and Spain in the Middle Ages. When the African continent was first discovered and traveled by sailors, the striped horses were given the name zebra.



There are three different species: the Grevy's zebra, the mountain zebra and the plains zebra. Mountain zebras are closely related to the African wild ass. Plains zebras and Grevy's zebras, on the other hand, are related to the Asian donkey. The three species differ in size, weight, stripes and color.

Grevy's Zebra

The Grevy's zebra is the largest zebra. It has rather thin and narrow stripes.

Mountain Zebra

The mountain zebra is medium-sized and has rather broad stripes.

Plains Zebra

The plains zebra is the smallest of all. Unlike the others, it displays stripes of varying widths. Additionally, it frequently showcases dark brown or gray stripes amidst the black ones.

Zebra Species Differences Zebra Species Differences - Photo: Rainbirder (Grevyzebra) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons, Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE (Bergzebra) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons, Flickr user Rui Ornelas (Steppenzebra) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Distribution and Habitat

Zebras live in the south and east of Africa: in Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ethiopia and South Africa. Their habitat is savannas, open grasslands, shrublands, rocky highlands and open forests.

Life Style

Zebras are diurnal herd animals. They spend about 60-80% of their time grazing. They're most active in the morning and afternoon and rest during the midday heat. They migrate long distances in search of fresh grass and water holes.

Zebras at a Waterhole Zebras at a Waterhole - Photo: Mat Hayward/

Anatomy and Appearance

Size and Weight

Zebras have a body length of 82-118 inches (210-300 cm), a shoulder height of 43-62 inches (110-160 cm) and a weight of 390-990 pounds (180-450 kg). Their tail is about 15-24 inches (40-60 cm) long.

• Black Stripes on White Fur - or Vice Versa?

Most zebras are primarily white, with only a few black stripes. Some, on the other hand, are primarily black and appear to have white stripes. So the question is: What is the base color of their fur? And what color are the stripes? Researchers believe that the hair follicles in zebras contain so-called color cells. Hair originates from the hair follicles, allowing it to naturally display various colors as it grows. The color cells are only missing or not active in their white hair. That's why the zebra is actually black with white stripes. The skin under their fur is solid black, not striped.

• Unique Stripe Pattern

At first glance, zebras all look the same. But not if you look closer. Each zebra has a unique stripe pattern. They can recognize their family and friends not only by smell, but also by their stripes.

Zebras Characteristics Zebras Characteristics - Photo: Chris/

Zebra or Horse – What’s the Difference?

Apart from the black and white stripes, zebras and horses look very similar. However, there are more differences between these two species. In zebras, the mane is erect because the hair is very stiff. In horses it is soft and flowing - except for the Fjord horse. In zebras the ears are much larger and rounder, in horses they are smaller and tapered. The nose can be gray, brown, red, white or black in horses, but in zebras it is always black. The hooves also differ. Horses have much larger hooves. In zebras they are smaller because they frequently navigate through rough terrains with stones and rocks, making a more compact hoof structure necessary.

Zebra or Horse – What’s the Difference? Zebra or Horse – What’s the Difference? - Photo: selim (Zebra), David McGowen (Horse)/


Zebras are herbivores. They eat over 90% grass. Sometimes they also eat leaves and bark.


Social Behavior

Zebras are very social animals. They maintain close friendships and playfully bite each other to show affection. During their migrations, they form loose groups of several hundred animals. However, there are usually only about ten animals in a herd: the mares with their foals and a stallion who protects the herd. Male zebras that don't yet have their own herd form “bachelor groups” with 2-6 stallions.


Zebras alert each other and run away collectively when a predator comes near, as they are more powerful when united. Due to their strong, muscular body, they are very fast and can outrun many predators. But: That doesn't always work. When they can't escape, they attack by kicking and biting.

Why Do Zebras and Wildebeest Migrate Together?

Wildebeests frequently trail behind zebras in large numbers. Zebras consume the tall, low-nutrient grass, allowing the wildebeests to feed on the shorter, nutrient-rich grass they prefer. Additionally, the two species alert each other to potential threats from predators, benefiting from a mutual relationship.

Zebra Herd Zebra Herd - Photo: MattiaATH/Shutterstock

Senses and Abilities

Why Do Zebras Have Stripes?

• Camouflage

It might seem that zebras haven't chosen their colors very cleverly. The combination of black and white can be easily perceived even at long distances. However, the stripes help confuse attackers who are already quite close. The heat in the savannah causes the air to shimmer and the outlines of the zebras become unclear. Predators struggle to accurately spot a single animal within a herd.

• Protection Against Insects

Another reason for their black and white stripes might be better protection against tsetse flies. The carriers of sleeping sickness have great difficulty recognizing a zebra with their compound eyes.

• Protection From Heat

Scientists have now found that the stripes also help make the heat more bearable.

Zebras Zebras - Photo: gpointstudio/

Life Expectancy

In the wild, zebras can live 20-30 years.

Enemies and Threats

Natural Enemies

Their natural enemies include lions, leopards, hyenas, African wild dogs and crocodiles.


Humans are the zebras' biggest enemy. Through the construction of settlements and roads, their habitat is being destroyed and reduced in size. Fences for farming and keeping livestock also prevent them from accessing important water sources.

Are Zebras Considered Endangered?

The only zebra that isn't (yet) threatened is the plains zebra. The Grevy's zebra is considered critically endangered. There are only 2,000 animals left. The mountain zebra is also endangered. There are only 35,000 of his species left in the wild.

Zebra and Lion Zebra and Lion - Photo: Mogens Trolle/Shutterstock

Importance for the Ecosystem

Zebras play an important role in maintaining balance in nature. Due to the animals' preference for grass as their food source, herbivorous insects face a shortage of food and are unable to reproduce rapidly. They also distribute seeds through their droppings, from which new grasses, shrubs and trees can grow. As they migrate, they leave paths that guide to watering spots. This helps other animals in search of a drink to find their way.


Female zebras begin to reproduce when they're five years old. The gestation period is 10-12 months. At birth, the newborn foals already have the typical stripes and they can run with the herd just a few minutes later. After a week they start eating grass. However, they are nursed for a total of eleven months. When the colts are three years old, they leave the herd and form a “bachelor group”. The fillies stay with their mother.

Zebra Foal Zebra Foal - Photo: Cavan for Adobe/

Fun Facts

There are crosses between zebra and horse, but also between zebra and donkey. They're called Zorse (Zebra and Horse) and Zonkey (Zebra and Donkey). In our article Hinnies, Mules, Zonkeys and Zorses you can find out more about the crosses.

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