First there were bar codes, then there were QR codes, now there are zebras. StripeSpotter, a program co-developed by researchers at the University of Illinois, Chicago and Princeton University scans the distinctive stripes on a zebra.

The open-source system, which focuses on field photographs of zebras, can be used to associate field notes on a given animal, with the distinctive pattern, to track them through their life cycle.

A user defines an area of the animal to scan, does so and the software’s algorithms assign a unique “stripecode” for the animal. Future scans of the same area will determine whether it is the same animal and conclusions can be drawn about whether the animal has migrated, gotten pregnant, gotten healthier and more.

The system was created by UIC’s Computational Population Biology Laboratory and Princeton’s Equid Research and Conservation Laboratory.

Additional elements include:


Based as it is on distrinctive striping, it could be used on other animals such as giraffes and tigers, who’s coat is alternating colors.

  • CO-1 and StripeCode algorithm
  • Written in C++ for speed
  • Database is stored in plain-text, Excel-compatible CSV format
  • Can use Dropbox or similar service to synchronize database between many users
  • Runs on Windows, Mac and Linux

The researchers plan to present their paper on StripeSpotter at thee International Conference on Multimedia Retrieval in Trento, Italy this month.

Zebra photo by Chris Willis | additional sources: PopSci, MSNBC