Do Animals Get Sunburned?
Sunburn is a common summer malady for humans. Considering how hairless, and thin-skinned we are compared to most of other animals, it comes as no surprise that ultraviolet light from the sun can easily burn our skin!
But have you ever wondered if animals too get sunburned like you do?
The answer is that they can.
According to biologist Tony Barthel, (curator of the Elephant House and the Cheetah Conservation Station at Smithsonian’s National Zoo) most any animal that has exposed skin is susceptible to sunburn.
So what about the animals protected by fur, feathers or scales?
The bodies of a lot of animals are protected from the sun by coverings of some kind — feathers, scales or fur — which shield them from UV damage and help their bodies retain moisture. Usually, unless humans intervene, these coverings work well but even furry mammals can get sunburned! Reptiles with scales do get sun protection but can die from overheating even before sunburn is a factor at all. However, mammals with exposed skin such as elephants and rhinos are naturally most susceptible to sunburns.
Then what do these animals do to protect themselves from the sun?
Animals might not have clothes and sunscreen like we do- but they do come with good natural instincts and behavioral traits that help to protect them from the sun. Animals like rhinos and pigs protect their skin by wallowing in mud and are often found to be indulging in luxurious and long mud baths. Elephants throw dirt and sand on their backs to protect themselves- a skill that they pass on to their kids by throwing sand at them every chance they get. Hippos excrete pinkish “sweat” which is made of red and orange pigments which are great for absorbing light in the UV range. And when conditions are extreme, most animals retreat to the shade or take refuge in burrows.
What about the animals that live underwater?
It might seem unusual, but even fishes can get sunburned!
Most shallow water fishes rely on a natural protective layer – otherwise known as a “slime coat” – that fends off everything from disease to injury. Some other species can even produce a unique brand of sunscreen from their own cells! In 2015, for example, scientists discovered that zebra-fish can bio-synthetically produce a chemical called gadusol that protects them against UV light. Gadusol has also been found in shrimp, sponges and sea urchins, and researchers have found evidence that amphibians, reptiles, and birds can also produce the compound — but mammals, sadly, lack the ability!