Do animals get sunburn?

You can rely on us to answer all of your burning questions…

Animals with feathers or scales are protected from the damaging rays of the Sun, but those with pale hair or exposed skin are at risk of sunburn just like we are. Whales and dolphins are safe underwater most of the time, but their smooth skin can burn when they come to the surface. Sperm whales are more susceptible than blue and fin whales because they spend more time breathing and socialising at the surface.

Some animals have developed a defence against UV rays. It’s thought that the exposed part of a giraffe’s tongue is black to stop it getting burned while they’re eating. It was once believed that hippos sweat blood, but it’s been discovered that this red secretion contains pigments that prevent UV rays reaching the skin. It also repels insects and acts as an antiseptic.

There are also behavioural ways to avoid burnt skin. Wallowing in mud protects pigs and rhinos and keeps their skin moisturised. Elephants cover themselves with sand or dirt, teaching their calves how to do the same. If a mother’s young is sleeping in the open, she will stand over it to create shade.

Animals lucky enough to live with responsible humans get some help when the sun is strong. All pets with pale, pink or exposed skin need to be provided with shade and a coating of suncream on vulnerable areas if they’re going outside so that they can enjoy the weather without being harmed.