Perhaps it was the lack of knowledge to blame, but whenever we came across imagery of tribal men with striped body paint, we always thought it was to show their pride for belonging to a particular tribe. But a recent study of how horse flies reacted to body paint, showed that there could be more than just one reason, perhaps a more scientific and beneficial one.
The study, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal study suggests that being stripy may also work for people in remote tribal communities who paint their bodies in monochrome shades. According to the study, the traditional body-paintings of tribal people in Africa, Australia, and Papua New Guinea may be responsible for prevention from blood-sucking horseflies which are rampant in those areas.
The study which was conducted by a team of researchers led by scientists from Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary described a bizarre series of experiments they carried out to test their theory.
For the study, the researchers coated many plastic mannequins of different colours, some mimicking dark tones, while others that are fairer. The remaining mannequins were dark brown with white stripes.
The layer of glue was applied to them and left for four weeks in a horsefly-infested meadow in Hungary.
To come to a conclusion, the researchers counted the number of horseflies on the mannequins and found the fewest on the stripped models, followed by the fairer-skinned ones and then the darker tones.
The study found that the darker-skinned models attracted 10 times as many as the striped model.
The fairer-skinned one attracted double the number of horseflies when compared with the striped one, and the darker models had 5.1 times more flies than the fairer-skinned mannequins.
"We show that the attractiveness to horseflies of a dark brown human body model significantly decreases if it is painted with the white stripes that are used in body paintings," the author writes.
"Thus, white-striped body paintings, such as those used by African and Australian people, may serve to deter horseflies."
The study author Susanne Åkesson, a zoology professor at Lund University in Sweden, said that biting flies can cause injuries but also transmit diseases.
Åkesson added that the colour of our clothes also affects attractiveness to horseflies and other biting flies.