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Plains Zebra (Equus quagga) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding


Primarily consume grasses (from Klingel 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • >90% of diet consists of grasses
    • 50 species of grasses eaten
    • Species consumed typically related to relative abundance; though some preferences noted (Ben-Shahar 1991)
      • Dietary staples: Panicum maximum, Themeda triandra, Cynodon dactylon, and Eragrostis superba
    • Stems, sheaths, leaves, and seeds preferentially used
    • Rhizomes and corms taken in extremely dry periods (Pienaar 1963)
  • Herbs
    • Eaten inadvertently (Klingel 2013 unless otherwise noted)

Diet when in famine (from Hack et al. 2002 unless otherwise noted)

  • Will eat bark from trees and other coarse vegetation (Estes 2012)
    • Hind-gut digestion enables more rapid processing of food
      • Facilitates survival when diet is of low nutritional value
      • Other ruminants lack this capability
      • Vegetation passes through the digestive tract in 30-45 hours, up to 45% faster than in the cow (Estes 2012)


Feeding behavior

  • Stand or slowly walk while feeding (from Waring 1983 unless otherwise noted)
    • Forehooves paw the ground to expose rhizomes and corms when above-ground material is not available
    • Lips help gather herbage and push it between the incisors (Estes 2012)
      • Dexterous upper lip isolates preferred items from adjacent materials
      • Tongue helps bring food into the mouth
    • Incisor teeth crop grasses (Breitwisch 1992; Estes 2012)
      • Jerk of the head posteriorly assists in cutting
      • Plant roots remain in the ground
    • Cheek teeth grind the food
      • Chew material 1-1.5 times per second
      • Neck and head often raised while chewing

Immerse lips below water surface to drink (from Waring 1983 unless otherwise noted)

  • Water sucked in through slightly parted lips slightly
    • May intake > 4 liters (1 gallon) in a single bout of drinking

Page Citations

Ben-Shahar (1991)
Breitwisch (1992)
Estes (2012)
Hack et al. (2002)
Klingel (2013)
Pienaar (1963)
Waring (1983)

SDZWA Library Links