Illustration for article titled Zebras are now walking bar codes

Scientists have come up with a system that can scan zebras in photographs the way cashiers scan cans of peas at the grocery store.

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It's thought that zebras developed stripes to elude their predators. Solid-colored animals in herds are hard enough to track when they're stampeding or milling in circles - but a multitude of stripes moving through other stripes is even more visually confusing. They're confusing for lions and cheetahs, and unfortunately they're confusing for biologists as well. After one too many nights of painstakingly picking through pictures of herds for hours to identify animals, only to go to the grocery store and having their ramen and cheetos be priced in a blink, it's easy to see why biologists decided enough was enough.

They got together with computers scientists and worked out a system called StripeSpotter. Biologists can take pictures of zebras, scan them into a computer, and isolate a rectangular sample of stripes from the animals' sides. The pattern of those stripes will be encoded into StripeSpotter, identifying the animal. From then on, StripeSpotter will be able to identify the animal by the proportions of the black and white stripes along its sides.

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The StripeSpotter system will make it easier to survey zebra populations in the wild and understand when animals enter or leave the herd. It would also make a fantastic Far Side cartoon. It's a shame that Gary Larson has retired.

Via New Scientist.

Photo by Johan Swanepoel/Shutterstock

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