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What color are zebras if you shave them?

Zebras are iconic African mammals known for their distinctive black and white striped coats. But have you ever wondered – if you shaved off all that fur, what color would their skin be underneath? Here’s a quick answer:

The Short Answer

If you shaved a zebra’s fur off, their skin would still have dark patches and light patches! So they would not be solidly black or white underneath. The zebra’s striped pattern is determined by melanin pigment in their skin, not just their hair. So the stripes are there whether they have fur or not.

More About Zebra Color and Markings

Zebras are equids, closely related to horses and donkeys. There are three main species of zebra: the plains zebra, the mountain zebra, and the Grévy’s zebra. All three species have black and white striped fur coats, although the thickness, arrangement, and width of the stripes vary between species.

So what causes the striking striped pattern? Zebras, like many mammals, have pigment cells called melanocytes in their skin that produce melanin. Melanin comes in two forms: eumelanin which appears black or dark brown, and pheomelanin which appears yellow or reddish.

In zebras, some areas of the skin have lots of melanin and appear dark, while other areas have much less melanin and appear light colored. This creates the alternating dark and pale stripes.

Why Do Zebras Have Stripes?

There are several hypotheses as to why zebras evolved stripey coats:

  • Camouflage – the stripes may help zebras blend into the grasses and brush of the savannah
  • Thermoregulation – the stripes may help channel air currents close to the zebra’s skin to keep it cool
  • Predator avoidance – the stripes may confuse predators or make it hard to focus on one zebra target
  • Social function – the unique striping patterns may help zebras recognize each other
  • Pest control – some think the stripes may deter flies and other biting insects

The exact evolutionary advantage remains unclear, but likely the stripes serve multiple purposes for the zebra’s survival on the savannah.

What Colors Make Up Zebra Stripes?

The background color of zebra skin is typically dark gray or black. Their “white” stripes are usually a cream, tan, or reddish-brown color rather than pure white.

So the dark stripes are eumelanin-rich areas of skin, while the lighter stripes have higher concentrations of pheomelanin.

Differences Between Species

The three zebra species have slightly different stripe patterns:

  • Plains zebra – Broad stripes, black with white/cream stripes
  • Mountain zebra – Thinner stripes, dewlap has grid-like pattern
  • Grévy’s zebra – Narrow stripes, stripe pattern extends down legs

But in all three species, the underlying skin color remains dark with lighter striping whether they have fur or not.

Other Striped Mammals

Zebras are the most vividly striped animal, but some other mammals also have striped fur or skin including:

  • Tigers
  • Raccoons
  • Skunks
  • African wild dogs
  • Bats
  • Badgers
  • Possums

In these animals, the stripes also correspond to the distribution of dark and light pigment in their skin.

What About Albino Zebras?

Albino zebras with a genetic mutation that prevents melanin production are very rare. They have white fur and pink skin underneath due to lack of pigment. However, albino zebras usually don’t survive long in the wild since they lack the protective coloration.


So in summary, zebras’ striped pattern runs deeper than their fur. The stripes reflect areas of dark and light pigmentation in their skin. If shaved, zebras would retain a striped appearance due to the skin color, though the effect would not be as visually striking without the fur.

The unique striped coat remains one of the zebra’s most memorable traits, and now you know those stripes aren’t just surface-level – they reflect the beautiful and distinct way pigmentation appears across a zebra’s skin.

Zebra Species Stripe Characteristics
Plains Zebra Broad black and white stripes
Mountain Zebra Narrow stripes, grid neck pattern
Grévy’s Zebra Thin stripes, extend to legs

This table summarizes some of the key differences in striping patterns between the three zebra species. The plains zebra has the boldest striping with very dark black stripes and bright white stripes. The mountain zebra’s stripes are narrower and the neck has a distinctive grid pattern. The Grévy’s zebra has thin stripes that extend all the way down the legs.

Regardless of stripe pattern, all zebra species have a darkly pigmented skin with areas of lighter pigment that make up the “white” stripes. So even without fur, zebras retain their characteristic striped appearance.