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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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NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
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Researchers in Singapore Deploy Robot Swans to Test Water Quality
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

There's something peculiar about the new swans floating around reservoirs in Singapore. They drift across the water like normal birds, but upon closer inspection, onlookers will find they're not birds at all: They're cleverly disguised robots designed to test the quality of the city's water.

As Dezeen reports, the high-tech waterfowl, dubbed NUSwan (New Smart Water Assessment Network), are the work of researchers at the National University of Singapore [PDF]. The team invented the devices as a way to tackle the challenges of maintaining an urban water source. "Water bodies are exposed to varying sources of pollutants from urban run-offs and industries," they write in a statement. "Several methods and protocols in monitoring pollutants are already in place. However, the boundaries of extensive assessment for the water bodies are limited by labor intensive and resource exhaustive methods."

By building water assessment technology into a plastic swan, they're able to analyze the quality of the reservoirs cheaply and discreetly. Sensors on the robots' undersides measure factors like dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll levels. The swans wirelessly transmit whatever data they collect to the command center on land, and based on what they send, human pilots can remotely tweak the robots' performance in real time. The hope is that the simple, adaptable technology will allow researchers to take smarter samples and better understand the impact of the reservoir's micro-ecosystem on water quality.

Man placing robotic swan in water.
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

This isn't the first time humans have used robots disguised as animals as tools for studying nature. Check out this clip from the BBC series Spy in the Wild for an idea of just how realistic these robots can get.

[h/t Dezeen]

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
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Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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