One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Is a zebra a horse?
Yes, a zebra is a species of wild horse that lives in Africa. Zebras are members of the Equidae family of the genus Equus. The Equidae family (known as equids) also includes horses and asses, but zebras are not merely striped horses, they’re a different species from the horse. There are three main species of zebra, including the common zebra. All of the extant zebra species have black-and-white stripes and a mane that stands up stiffly (rather like a Mohican or Mohawk haircut). Just as human fingerprints are unique to each person, the striped pattern of each zebra’s coat is unique to that animal.
There used to be a species of zebra which had a yellowish-brown coat with darker stripes: this was the quagga. The quagga was a South African zebra which became extinct in 1883. Images show that the quagga wasn’t striped all over - the head and neck were distinctively marked, but the stripes gradually faded out towards the animal’s rear, while the legs were unstriped and paler in colour than the rest of the body.
Because they are closely related to horses and asses, zebras can be bred with both of these species. The names of the resulting offspring in English are also blends: a zedonk is a cross between a male zebra and a female donkey, while a zorse is the offspring of a male zebra and a female horse. The overall term for any cross between a zebra and a horse or ass is a zebroid.
More to explore
What zonkeys tell us about our love of hybrid words (OxfordWords blog)
Why did the zebra cross the road? The language of driving in the US and UK (OxfordWords blog)
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