Painting cows like zebras keeps flies at bay - study

Researchers used six Japanese Black cows with different paint designs in the study.
Researchers used six Japanese Black cows with different paint designs in the study. Photo credit: Supplied

A new study suggests painting cows with zebra stripes could be the answer to the age-old problem of fly attacks on livestock, and bring economic and environmental benefits.

Biting flies are serious pests for livestock, which cause economic losses in animal production. 

However a new study by Japanese researchers and published in PLOS One found that black cows painted with zebra stripes are nearly 50 percent less likely to suffer from the bites.

Researchers used six Japanese Black cows with different paint designs in the study.

The treatments were black-and-white painted stripes, black painted stripes, and no stripes (all-black body surface). 

Black cows painted with zebra stripes were nearly 50 percent less likely to suffer from the bites.
Black cows painted with zebra stripes were nearly 50 percent less likely to suffer from the bites. Photo credit: Supplied

The numbers of biting flies on the cows painted with black-and-white stripes were significantly lower than those on non-painted cows and cows painted only with black stripes.

The frequencies of fly-repelling behaviors in cows painted with black-and-white stripes were also lower than those in the non-painted and black-striped cows. 

"We also found that the reduced landings of biting flies coincide with a reduction in defensive behaviours in cows," said the researchers. 

It's hoped the study will help provide an alternative to the use of conventional pesticides for stopping biting fly attacks on livestock, which is better for animal welfare and human health.

Researchers said paint was usually considered as a short-term marker for livestock and more effective techniques to keep the black-and-white stripes on livestock during the biting fly season would need to be considered.

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