Why do zebras have stripes? I'll do you one better. Why do cows have stripes? Well, these ones at least.

A research team has found that applying zebra-like pattern to the bodies of cattle helps stave off flies and their irritating bites, potentially curbing the spread of disease.

For bovines on stock farms, such a measure, unusual as it may appear, would also help lower stress in the animals, according to scientists from the Aichi Agricultural Research Center and Kyoto University.

"Productivity is crucial for livestock farmers, so I want the method to be of help not only in Aichi Prefecture, but also across Japan," said Tomoki Kojima, a chief researcher at the cattle lab in the center’s Animal Husbandry Division.

Kojima learned that livestock farmers have been troubled by their animals being bitten by insects when he worked in a section that supports people who raise domestic animals.

The horsefly, stable fly and other such bugs can cause leukemia and other conditions, while the pain and itchiness can increase stress in cows, leading to insufficient growth.

Having read a treatise showing how a zebra's stripe pattern drives away bugs, Kojima started an experiment after being deployed to his current lab. He took images of the animal at the Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Nagoya’s Chikusa Ward with his family to study its design,

In the study, one cow was painted like a zebra with white spray paint, one was given black stripes, and the third was left as it is to confirm which received more bug bites.

After the animals were tethered to a fence for 30 minutes, one side of their body was photographed to count the number of insects on the skin.

The results showed that 128 and 111 bugs were found on average on the surface of the non-treated and black-striped cows, respectively.

However, the zebra-patterned one was assaulted by just 56 insects, about half the number.

Kojima noted that the stripe design apparently makes it difficult for flies to land on the skin. He is currently researching how to prevent the stripe from fading between June and October, when horseflies and other biting insects are active.

The findings have been published in the online edition of U.S. scientific journal Plos One (https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0223447).