Imagine you’re enjoying a beautiful day at the beach. You lounge on the shore as the sun rises high in the sky. It’s a clear, warm day, and you’re glad you remembered to bring an extra bottle of sunscreen. It looks like you’ll need it!
That’s when the thought hits you. You look around, scanning the beach and the sky above. Seagulls. Turtles. Starfish. A dog chasing a frisbee. All these animals are here at the beach with you—but, of course, they don’t wear sunscreen. Will they all turn into bright red lobsters by the day’s end? Can animals even get sunburns?
The short answer is yes, animals can get sunburns. However, many of them have natural protection against the sun. That seagull flying overhead? Its feathers provide protection. The turtle near the shoreline? Its shell and scales provide it with cover. But many other animals aren’t so lucky.
Animals with pale skin and little fur are most at-risk for sunburns. A few examples are pigs, rhinos, and elephants. How do they protect themselves from the sun’s rays? Some of our Wonder Friends already know that pigs use mud as sunscreen. They roll around in it to coat themselves and keep their skin safe from the sun. Rhinos do the same thing. Elephants throw sand on themselves (and their offspring) to avoid sunburn.
Have you ever seen a hippopotamus at the zoo? If so, you may have noticed they have pale skin around their eyes and ears. These spots are especially vulnerable to damage from the sun. To protect their skin, hippos make their own sunscreen. That’s right! They secrete a rust-colored fluid that absorbs ultraviolet light. It keeps them from getting a sunburn.
Hippos aren’t alone in making their own sunscreen. Zebrafish make a chemical called gadusol that blocks harmful rays. Researchers think shrimp, sea sponges, and some amphibians can do the same.
Giraffes don’t secrete sunblock, but they do have another interesting adaptation. Have you ever noticed that much of a giraffe’s tongue is black? These animals spend about 12 hours a day eating. During that time, their tongues are exposed to the sun. Some experts think the dark color evolved to protect the tongue from sunburn.
In recent years, scientists have noticed an increase in the rate of sunburns among whales. Experts think this trend may be related to the depletion of the ozone layer. This is especially true of blue whales. They spend more time than other whales at the surface of the ocean, where they’re exposed to the sun.
What about pets? How can we protect them from sunburn? There’s good news! If your pet has thick fur, feathers, or scales, it’s unlikely to get a sunburn. However, if your pet has white, short, or no fur, they are at a higher risk for a sunburn. Luckily, most pet stores sell sunscreen specially formulated for animals. Some pet owners also opt to have their animals wear t-shirts outside to protect them. Of course, all pets need shaded areas in which to rest when they’re outside. This can also protect them from the sun, too.
How do you protect your own skin from sunburn? Hopefully, you wear sunscreen when you’re outdoors. Hats can also help protect your face. If you’ll be spending the day at the beach or pool, take along an umbrella to provide shade. Everyone looks forward to fun days in the sun. Just remember to protect your skin!