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NAIROBI PARK DIARY

Why dust bathing?

It is always interesting to watch the zebra when they are “on the roll”

In Summary

• Possible reasons include a protective dust layer to minimise parasites and thermo-cooling their coats

A zebra dust bathing
A zebra dust bathing
Image: GARETH JONES

It has always been a favourite habit of mine to approach a herd of zebra, slowly idle and edge the vehicle closer and closer until virtually in the middle of the herd, and then switch off the vehicle and observe them.

A particularly strange activity that they do is to find a patch of dust and then repeatedly roll in it, effectively dust bathing their coats. Often, the herd seemingly waits in line to all roll on exactly the same dust spot.

There are various possible reasons for this behaviour, including a protective dust layer that results in minimising parasites and thermo-cooling their coats in the African heat. Maybe the action could also be linked to communal scent marking of the herd?

Some research scientists also believe that pheromones could also be released in the dust, and in so doing, tell other zebra what the current status of a particular zebra is. Whatever the reasons, it is always interesting to watch the zebra when they are “on the roll”.

Many bird species also take regular dust baths. Much the same way that animals clean their fur and skin and soothe itching and irritation by dust bathing, water bathing and mud wallowing, birds clean their feathers and skin by dust and water bathing.

It is extremely important for birds to constantly groom their feathers to keep them clean and functional. Most birds have a preen gland, which secretes an oil used for preening and grooming, so dust bathing helps absorb any excess oil and also removes dry skin and other debris.

Birds species that do not regularly dust bathe will have feathers that are oily and matted. Bird species use dust baths to help keep their feathers clean and dry. A major reason for dust bathing is to discourage parasite infestation on their physical bodies.