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Do Animals Get Sunburns?

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After a long, snowy winter, it’s hard to resist the allure of warm summer days. Of course, they can come at a cost—including a sunburn. While it’s a well-known advisory for humans to slather on that SPF before taking in the rays, what about animals?

“Animals can get sunburn, just as people do, from too much sun exposure,” Paul Calle, chief veterinarian at the Wildlife Conservation Society in the Bronx, told The New York Times.

However, the Sun affects different creatures in different ways. “Wild animals are marvelously adapted to their environment, so those in areas with lots of sunlight usually have scales, feathers, or fur to protect them,” Calle continued. “They also retreat to burrows, shady areas or water; wallow in water or mud; or spray dust or water on themselves when the Sun is at its peak.”

So which animals are more susceptible to sunburn? According to Tony Barthel, curator of the Elephant House and the Cheetah Conservation Station at Smithsonian’s National Zoo, elephants, rhinos, and freshly shorn sheep are especially at risk. Studies also found evidence of sun damage in the cells of blue whales, fin whales, and sperm whales.

However, some creatures are equipped to protect themselves. For instance, the first eight or nine inches of a giraffe’s tongue is black and the rest is pink. “Some people theorize that giraffes have black tongues because they are out of their mouths a lot, and they don’t want to get sunburned on their tongues,” Barthel told Smithsonian.

Additionally, hippos “excrete a pinkish liquid that wells up in droplets on their faces or behind their ears or necks.” This substance is found to absorb UV light and prevent bacterial growth.

Snakes and reptiles can thank their scales for providing a little extra protection; not only do their scales protect them from UV rays, but they also help retain moisture. 

When biology doesn’t cover it, some animals have developed their own tricks. According to Calle, some creatures instinctively protect themselves. Elephants throw sand on themselves in an effort to avoid sunburn. (And pesky bugs, of course!) It’s a learned behavior, as adults throw sand on their young.

“That is probably part of the teaching process,” Barthel says. “Not only are they taking care of their youngsters, but they are showing them that they need to do that.”

If you’re looking to protect a pet from potentially harmful UV rays, How Stuff Works recommends dog sunscreen, which can be found at pet stores. Horse and Hound even says children’s sunscreen works for horses!

However, Calle notes that “for people and animals, avoiding excess exposure to high-intensity sunlight is the best prevention.”

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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