IT might sound like scientists having a bit of fun but painting stripes on cattle has proven to provide substantial relief from flies.
Japanese research, published in Plos One, found the zebra-like stripes on domesticated cows decreased the incidence of biting flies landing on individual animals by 50 per cent.
Australian livestock researchers say the work is credible and could have some application here, although buffalo flies - the main issue here - were not part of the study.
Conducted by researchers from Aichi Agricultural Research Center in Nagakute and Kyoto University, the study concluded stripe painting was an alternative to the use of conventional pesticides for mitigating biting fly attacks on livestock that improves animal welfare and human health, in addition to helping resolve the problem of pesticide resistance in the environment.
Dr Peter James, senior researcher at the University of Queensland's Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation and one of the country's leading experts on livestock parasites, said there could be potential to do similar research in Australia.
The Japanese research honed in on stable flies, which don't cause much problem in Australia apart from a case in WA's Swan River Valley and sometimes in feedlots.
Horn flies were included in the research to a lesser degree and they are closely related to the buffalo fly, but the effect on horn flies wasn't clear.
Feedlots in Australia are very good at hygiene management, which avoids problems with stable fly significantly,in most instances, Dr James explained.
So the commercial value in Australia from this particular research would be of limited value but if buffalo flies were similarly affected, it might be a different story.
The Japanese researchers said many functional hypotheses on the striped pattern of zebras had been generated scientifically over the years, such as camouflage, confusion of predators, thermoregulation and avoidance of biting flies.
Biting flies are serious pests of livestock, affecting the behavior of cattle and causing economic losses via reduced grazing, feeding, and bedding down time of cattle, along with increased fly-repelling behaviors such as head throwing, foot stamping, skin twitching, tail flicking and bunching, they said.
This is believed to be the first study to evaluate the effect of zebra-like stripe painting on fly attacks on live animals.
See the full report here.
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