So “species” in my nextgen ’verse are not quite the same as what we mean when we say the word. We define it using DNA, individuals ability to produce fertile offspring, ecological nice and behaviour, and so on.
But for them... for one, none of the current sapient species on Gaia even knows what DNA is or how inheriting traits from parents works. They have theories, but no way of really proving or disproving them.
And second; how do you determine species for sapient people?? Imagine an alien walking up to you and your friend saying “We’ve decided you are no longer the same species ”. It’s one thing to classify, label and sort animals and plants as you please, it’s a completely different thing to try and do the same with people.
Therefore, determining if you are the same species as someone on Gaia is a combination of appearance, history, culture and just... “Can we have grandkids together?”.
A good example of this is actually the ponies and horses. If we were to classify them, we’d probably say that ponies and horses are the same species, maybe different subspecies. But due to their history and cultures, as well as differences in appearance (most notably the horses’ lack of cutie marks) they consider each other as different species entirely.
Another thing worth mentioning is that subspecies are really not a thing which a lot of sapients on Gaia have. People are not animals; they travel, they move, they marry each other --in most cases, any hard lines which can almost be drawn in reality is just completely blurred there. Rather than there being one species with several subspecies, they have one species with a spectrum of individuals which show a variety of different traits. There are a few times when subspecies do still remain separate --uncrossable geographic obstacles, cultural reasons preventing much intermingling, etc-- but in those cases, they are much more likely to consider each other as different species rather than subspecies.
Therefore, subspecies will not be mentioned here, as zebras on Gaia do not have any.
Now. Let's start!
Excluding the quagga, all zebras have a light coat with dark stripes --although, unlike in our world, Gaia’s zebra can appear in any color. It’s quite uncommon though, and having higher contrast is generally considered more attractive. Zecora is about as low the contrast of body and stripes will go.
Like ponies, their manes can appear in almost any shape or form; some individuals have only a strip of mane running down the back of their neck, and some having mane which grows all over their head. Their manes can be straight, curly, soft, coarse... it varies a lot. One thing which is consistent though, is that all zebras, including quaggas, will have a mane which matches the hue of their coat. It may be darker or lighter, but if a zebra is green, so will their mane be. The stripes most often also reach up into the mane, making darker bands where the stripes cross the mane, but not always.
The name of the subgenus, the collective “zebra” -- has a bit of a history, as zebras did not name themselves that. Rather, it came from a completely different language spoken in a different country, completely unrelated to any zebra. It was that language's collective term for equines; ponies, horses, donkeys and zebras were all referred to as by that name. Zebras who moved there thus adopted the term for themselves, and later brought and modified it along their movement until reaching equestria as “zebra”.
Equestrian zebras who have lived in the country for some generations will therefore most often call themselves “zebra” and prefer the term -- while zebras who are just now visiting or moving to Equestria tend to be a bit confused by it, and often just use their own language’s name.
Which language that is, in turn, varies a lot -- zebras are very widespread over a plethora of vastly different countries and cultures, not to mention languages. The continent they originate from, and the majority of them still live on, is big.
There are some trends though; zebras tend to call themselves either a version of “the Striped People”, various old words meaning striped or with allusions to fluid movement, or an onomatopoeia of their characteristic barking sound (similar to how ponies still whinny and snort to convey emotions, zebras still bark). As such, sometimes more recently migrated zebras will refer to their subgenus as “the striped people” in equestrian, and it is another official name for the subgenus alongside the older and more common “zebra”.
Zebras are very much not that. They do consider themselves to be connected and related to each other (As they belong to the same subgenus), but are four, distinctly different, species of zebra.
To start with, the largest zebra species. They live mainly in two countries --with minor populations in many, many, others as well. Every sapient species will move around and live in different places, especially when the places share a landmass. In the Equestrian language they usually call themselves either “Arid Zebra” or “Giant Zebra”, due to their size and ability to withstand thirst better than the other zebras they share countries with.
Arid Zebras are about the size of a horse, with a very sloped and long head, a grey muzzle and large ears. They have a very thin dark-and-light striping pattern covering their entire body, except their belly and tail, which are bare and just the lighter color. Their stripes are vertical on their sides, only turning horizontal on their rump, and they always have a dark dorsal line with white space around it running all the way from their mane to their tail. The stallions are on average slightly bigger than the mares.
The countries/area they originate from are far up north compared to other zebra’s homelands, and the climate they live in is very -- well, arid. They can survive for several days without any water though, much longer than other zebras, and many of their cultures’ legends involve some form of their ancestors' survival against all odds blessing them with their resilience.
They share their countries and general area with an other species of zebra --one which is extremely diverse and widespread. So much so that trying to name the species with just one name is difficult, to say the least, and there are several official and even more unofficial names for them. Still, the most common equestrian names for them are the “Plains Zebra”, the “Striped Quagga”, and the “Many-varied Zebra”, often shortened as just the “Varied Zebra”.
They live up to their name, as the species lives across almost the entire southern part of the continent, except the southernmost tip and the mountains to the west. They have the largest number of individuals of any species in the area, and have large populations living in almost all the countries the area covers. They vary so much in terms of culture, language and so on, that someone from the north would have very little in common with someone from the south.
They also differ a lot in appearance; though all roughly the same size --larger than a pony, smaller than an Arid Zebra--, they have a lot of variations. There are some commonalities; they all have no sexual dimorphism, they all have very thick stripes, they tend to have vertical stripes on the front and more horizontal stripes on their hindquarters, they have a striped stomach... But the differences are numerous. For example; if the stripes reach the hooves or not, if the stripes have shadow stripes, how thick exactly the stripes are, if they connect to each other a lot, how much white is interspersed, if they have a dorsal line, etc and etc.
Still, despite their varying appearance and many different cultures, they all consider themselves to be the same species. Mainly because some of their societies involve long migrations, so they all know of each other, and --more importantly for this question-- all know very well that they can all have descendants together. Which is distinctly unlike the other zebras they know of --they can have children with Arid Zebra, but their children can only sometimes have children themselves. And almost all their children with Mountain Zebra are infertile.
So, as far as they, and the other zebra, know and are concerned, Plains Zebra are very varied in culture and they have many different nationalities, but they are all the same species.
Except, for the Quagga. This is where the “What’s in a species” section comes back into importance. From our definition, the Quagga and the other Plains Zebra are the same species, just different subspecies. From their own, no.
As you may notice, the Quagga is quite different from the other zebra, appearance wise --they have a much darker coat with a defined lighter stomach and legs and they have stripes only on the uppermost front of their bodies. What’s more, due to the “stripes” being technically negative space leftover from the darker coat, the stripes appear to most often be lighter than the rest of zebra. Sometimes they also have what appears to be darker stripes in between the light ones, but still, the light stripes are always there. On only their face, neck and front.
They are zebra. Everyzebra agrees, with various levels of begrudgement, that they are zebra; they are equines, they do have stripes (somewhat), and they do have a stripe symbol, so they are zebra, just... they have to be a different species of zebra. They and everyone else agrees.
They are about the same size as Plains Zebra, with mares generally being larger than stallions. While they are famous for only having light stripes on the front of their bodies, they vary a lot from individual to individual in how striped they are; some only having a striped neck and face, some even reaching all the way back over their flanks.
They mostly live in one country, on the southernmost tip of the continent. It gets a bit colder in winter than the rest of the continent, and they tend to have a slightly thicker winter coat which they shed in the spring.
Their own most common name for their species is Quagga --however, that isn’t actually unique for them. Plenty of languages of the Plains Zebra also use the same or a similar word for their own species. Most likely due to the word sounding a bit like the zebras’ barking. Them both referring to themselves as Quagga is why the qualifiers of Striped Quagga and Bright Quagga are sometimes used today. Still, if just Quagga is said then most of the time it is the Bright Quagga which is ment.
The last species of zebra is the Mountain Zebra. They, as the name implies, live mainly in the mountain range in one country far south of the continent. This country also has a large population of plains zebras living in the lowland areas. There is a sizable population of Mountain Zebra living in the same country as the Quagga as well, and minor populations spread out over many other countries. Zecora is a mountain zebra, though she is from a country much further north, as her mother moved there from the mountains before she was born.
Mountain Zebra are smaller than the other species, being about the size of a pony. Unlike ponies though, they have next to no sexual dimorphism; mares are on average slightly bigger, but not enough to really base any type of assumptions on.
They have thin dark-and-light stripes covering their entire body except their stomachs which are light and bare. Their stripes tend to be vertical on their sides, only turning horizontal on their rump. The stripes there tend to also be wider and more spaced out than the rest of their body.
They are also unique in that they often have a dewlap on their necks, which none of the other zebra species share. This dewlap varies in size from individual to individual, but it is almost always at least somewhat visible.
Zebra foals also tend to be a bit fluffier than they are as adults. This is most notable in Arid Zebras, as their foals always have a mane which reaches all the way down their spine and to their tail. But the other three species also exhibit this to some degree, with their foals’ tails having fluff reaching up and onto their backs sometimes. This fluff is lost as the foal ages though in all individuals, and adults of all species only have a mane at the back of their neck, and a tuft at their tail-tips.
All zebras grow and mature at the same rate, which is roughly the same as for ponies and other equines. They can gain their (first) stripe symbol at almost any point in their life, though it is most common when they are just starting puberty --at around the time they are young teens. This is also the time when ponies usually get their cutie marks. But it is also a lot more common for zebra to gain their symbol later in life than it is for a pony to gain their mark later.
They all also finish growing at around the same time --although, the exact age they reach majority varies from culture to culture and country to country.
-Cause and Appearance-
Ponies tend to assume that special talents are unique to them, but that isn’t true --they just happen to have a convenient way of showing their special talent to the world. All sapient people have one, as their sapience inherently influences the form their inherent magic takes; their likes and dislikes, their personality, their experiences... all mold their magic, making it easier for the magic to do certain things which align with the person. Thus, giving them... a special talent for the things.
But as mentioned, ponies are not the only ones with a display of their talent to the world. Zebras have Stripe Symbols.
Stripe symbols are, well, symbols made out of a zebra’s stripes. The skin cells and hair follicles produce more melanin than the surrounding area in a specific pattern. Or less melanin, in the case of the majority of Quaggas’ symbols. They are still magic though; a zebra deep in concentration using their special talent will often have their symbols glow faintly or the air above it shimmer slightly.
As mentioned, they serve a similar function as cutie marks do; reflect the shape of a zebra’s inner magic --their special talent-- as an icon they associate with said magic. So a zebra with a talent for gardening might have a flower, or a watering can, or even the formula for photosynthesis as a symbol. It depends entirely on the zebras associations which actual icon is displayed.
For everyzebra --except the quagga-- the symbols are most often just two colors; the lighter base of the coat, and the darker color of the stripes. This isn’t actually a requirement though, it is just what zebras expect Stripe Symbols to appear as. And since their own associations and expectations are reflected in their symbols, that is what they are. But as is shown in the Quagga’s symbols, they can actually appear in any shade between the base and stripe colors. Grayscale, so to speak, rather than a binary image.
Stripe Symbols do not appear in a flash of magic. Rather, the stripes already covering the flanks --or the lighter color of their legs in the case of some quagga-- will slowly shift to form the image. It usually takes about a month for it to completely shift, and it will only start to shimmer or glow once finished.
In the case of Zonies (Zebra-Pony children), they can either have a Cutie Mark, a Stripe Symbol, both or neither. Yes, sometimes, for some reason, they remain blank their entire lives. Why, noone knows. In the case where they get both, the symbol or mark usually forms around one another in some way --as both symbols and marks are affected by the individual wearing them, they both match and accent the other rather than cover it. For example, a zony with a talent for running might have a horseshoe cutie mark with a lightning bolt stripe symbol trailing it.
-Multiple Stripe Symbols-
Another thing which differentiates symbols from marks, is that zebras can have more than just the ones on the flanks. It is uncommon, but a zebra which is exceptionally connected to their inherent magic will start to have other symbols appear. This stronger connection isn’t just something they’re born with, they have to train themselves to strengthen it. It isn’t just being more skilled at their special talent either, it’s deeper. A greater understanding of all aspects of their magic, a deeply rooted connection that does not require any thought as it has become second nature. Therefore, zebras usually gain their first symbol long before they can hope to gain a second one. Only about one in ten thousand achieve it.
Having a secondary symbol is very highly respected in almost all zebra societies. It is seen as very awe inspiring and zebra foals will stare at the second symbol. The zebra’s in question opinion is often very highly valued, and their skills are extremely sought after.
Having a tertiary symbol is the stuff of legends, but it is theoretically possible. In recorded history, only a hoof full of zebras has actually achieved it.
As for where these symbols appear... the first one almost always appears on their flanks. It might seem highly coincidental that it should appear in the same spot as Cutie Marks do, but there is a good explanation; both ponies and zebra are equines. And in all equine bodies, magic tends to flow and pool in similar patterns. One of the largest pools happens to be right in between the flanks --so that is where both cutie marks and the first stripe symbols appear. If Donkeys or Horses had something similar, that is where their icons would be as well.
There are a lot of other places where magic tends to pool in equine bodies too --the largest, (after the middle of their flanks) is at the center of their forehead --which is actually why unicorns developed horns in that spot. Then there is the center of their stomach, between their shoulders, in their chest.. and a myriad of smaller pools. Secondary symbols vary a bit more than first symbols in where they appear; most often the forehead, but the center of the chest, on the shoulders, on their stomachs, are also all common locations.
Ascended zebras will have “alicorn magic” the same way an alicorn does (as it is a result of the ascension, not the three pony aspects combining), they will be immortal and carry with them very powerful magic and abilities unique to the aspect they ascended into. They will also tend to grow a bit taller, and their eyes will sometimes glow when they perform magic.
And lastly; the entirety of their bodies will be covered by stripe symbols. Their magic is so powerful and deeply connected to them that all of their stripes shift to reflect it.
Also, can't forget, thanks PokemonTrainerMax for the name idea for stripe symbols!
I'll admit, I have not read the comics nor do I keep track of who's writing/drawing what regarding those. So I had no idea who Jeremy Whitley was lol. But I looked him up, and it seems he made the comics with Zecora's homeland I've heard some people mention? As I said, haven't read them, but I imagine his work on that was a lot harder than mine --the mlp writers have to be approved by higher ups for their ideas, which means other people's wants, studio's wants, keeping it kid-friendly both in themes and how complex the story can be etc and etc. A lot which can interfere with creativity. Meanwhile, I just do whatever the heck I feel like lol. I don't think he could do a comic which shows the internal organs of a changeling for example Think some parents would object to that haha
I'm really glad you enjoyed it regardless! :D
From what I understand Zecora's arc was EXACTLY as he wanted it to be from the start, as was pretty much the rest of "season 10". The only "corporate interference" he had to deal with was the fact that the G4 comics had to come to an end in order to promote G5, so he had to shorten all of the arcs after Zecora's by half.
But to put it gently, Zecora's arc was bad... like REALLY bad. It's got too much "Wakanda" thing to feel any marvel or wonder at all. JW's one of those so called "comic pros" that are running the industry into the ground with political correctness and propaganda spewing.
I do like the lil Lavender one, she/he looks like a fun character. I ended up doing my own zebras ages ago, but as custom toys. But instead of any colour on a pale one, I ended up putting black stripes on any colour haha. But I still like yours better.
Oooh, this is very interesting~
It's funny, by the way, that the official comics seemed to talk about a zebra-an alicorn that had a horn and wings. Perhaps the ponies, who already have a certain stereotype about how alicorns should look, distorted the information they once received in their own way.
I'll admit, haven't read the comics and tend to ignore some of the show, so a lot of my stuff's technically not actually headcanons, since it breaks canon, but rather something like au worldbulding. I just use the term since it seems to be somewhat accepted for this type of speculation in mlp But if I were to try and merge this to work with comic canon, that's probably the the direction I would go, with distorted info like you said ^^
Thank you! And not really; body-shapes and manestyles can go pretty far, and for the stripes there were few enough of them here that I could grab sub-species characteristics and use to differentiate between them. I wouldn't maybe want to draw and distinguish between too many more though =P
*sweats as I look at my Zony OC as I desperately need lore for his zebra side*
Can I use this lore for my own little writing I've been doing? It's just a private thing between me and a couple friends.
I'm glad you like it! ^^ And, yeah, of course -- goes for all my headcanon stuff, as long as credit is given I really don't mind people using my ideas Actually, I really like it when I'm able to inspire others in their stuff :D
I always have admired how much deep thought you put into your headcanons, this reads almost like something off of Nat geo and I mean that as a compliment of the highest fashion. Everything about this fits in with the lore of the show, but provides a unique spin and I love it!