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Question Your World: Do Animals Need Sunscreen?

Though we can’t totally see it, the effects of the sun’s UV rays are a pretty big deal so sunscreen becomes pretty important to us humans. But what about other animals, do animals ever need sunscreen? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.

Located some 92 million miles away is the undeniable superstar of our solar system and giver of all life as we know it, the sun. The sun’s rays of light take 8 minutes to get to the Earth and are clearly visible to the un-aided eye. There are also other things that the sun brings our way that are not as visible, like solar winds, ionized particles, and of course UV rays. After many years of research on the sun we decided to take preventative measures with things like sunscreen, shades, and so on. However, we’re not the only species on the planet that has a relationship with sunscreen.

The Mantis Shrimp, commonly found in the tropics, is a really remarkable creature for many reasons. First of all, look at this thing!

This crustacean exists in several bodies of water around the world and the ones in the tropics are some of the most colorful and vibrant animals we’ve ever seen, but wait there’s more! Not only does their body hold a myriad of colors and patterns, but evolution has made its eyes work in remarkable ways as well. These creatures have been known to have 16 or more photoreceptors, where as we have only 2, our rods and cones. This means that the mantis shrimp’s eyes can see amazing and complex colors and patterns that we can’t even imagine. Living in a coral heavy environment with threats and prey of all different color combinations this shrimp has evolved to be able to see them better and act accordingly. The large array of photoreceptors also do the work of details shape, color, and motion recognition so that its small brain (not an insult, just the truth) does not have to work as hard in decoding and processing all that data.

What’s remarkable about this shrimp and sunscreen though is what University of Maryland scientists recently discovered. Along with those 16 plus photoreceptors these shrimps also have natural filters that accompany these receptors. Meaning they can use the receptors as is and when needed they have a sort of built-in-Instagramesque filters.  These filters are comprised of mycosporin amino acids that naturally collect together via chemical bonding in shapes needed to absorb UV rays. A naturally occurring sunscreen located deep in the eye of a living animals. These filters allow them to us UV in addition to visible light in ways that we can’t even fantom!! Pretty remarkable.

Article by: Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia
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