The plains zebra mainly eats grass, lots of it, sometimes for 19 hours out of 24. More than fifty grass species have been recorded in plains zebra diets. They prefer short grass, below 35 cm, but may be seen munching away in grass taller than 1,5 m.
The mobile and muscled upper lip of the zebra is used to gather the grass and push it between the teeth. Long zebra whiskers around the muzzle serve to keep soil out when eating short grass.
Mopane leaves are rich in protein, browsed by many animals like cattle, probably also by zebra in parts where these leaves predominate. Mopane pods are also plucked from the tree or picked up from the ground by browsers, in spite of the turpentine smell of the pods. Still, mopane veld is not without grass.
One doesn’t see skinny zebras. This results from their insatiable habit and prolonged stints of eating, as well as from hosting thousands of parasites and bacteria in their bowels. Zebra foals acquire these passengers into their internal ecology lifelong by eating parental and other zebra dung, even before they taste grass.
When the parasites die inside, they are succeeded by continuous later generations in the zebra's body, the dead parasites serving as additional protein for maintaining the rotund condition. Deworm a zebra and it will become skinny; even the sick zebra appears fat.
Other passengers carried by zebra are maggots in and around their nostrils from eggs laid there by certain flies. This causes an ongoing irritation making them shake or nod their heads, snorting often. The same problem plagues wildebeest. Life is complicated for most, some burdens near inescapable (Riëtte, 2016).