WTF Fun Fact 13678 – Hippos Make Their Own Sunscreen

Hippos make their own sunscreen. And it’s all natural!

Sunny Hippos

Hippos spend a significant amount of time submerged in water to keep cool under the hot African sun. However, they can’t stay underwater forever. When they emerge, they’re exposed to the same UV radiation that has us humans slathering on sunscreen. But nature has equipped hippos with a remarkable solution.

Hippos secrete a reddish fluid from their skin, often referred to as “blood sweat.” But don’t be alarmed; it’s neither blood nor sweat. This secretion is unique to hippos and serves multiple purposes, including acting as a potent sunscreen. This natural sunscreen is crucial for their survival, protecting their sensitive skin from sunburn and possibly even skin infections.

The Science of “Blood Sweat”

What makes this “blood sweat” so special? It’s a combination of two distinct pigments: one red (hipposudoric acid) and one orange (norhipposudoric acid). These pigments absorb ultraviolet light, preventing damaging rays from penetrating the hippo’s skin. Moreover, this secretion is both antibacterial and antifungal, providing an all-around protective barrier for the hippo’s skin.

Researchers have studied these pigments, hoping to unlock their secrets for potential applications in human sunscreens. The idea of a sunscreen that not only protects from UV radiation but also offers antibacterial and antifungal benefits is certainly appealing.

How Hippos Make their Own Sunscreen

The hippo’s “blood sweat” isn’t just about sun protection. This secretion also helps to regulate their body temperature. As the liquid evaporates, it cools the skin, much like sweating does for humans. This is vital for an animal that spends time in both the scorching heat and the water.

This multifaceted secretion underscores the complexity of nature’s adaptations. Hippos, with their massive size and seemingly leisurely lifestyle, might not strike us as the pinnacle of evolutionary innovation. Yet, they carry within them a biochemical marvel that scientists are only beginning to understand fully.

In wrapping up this exploration into the hippo’s sunscreen, it’s clear that nature often holds the most sophisticated solutions to life’s challenges. The hippo’s ability to produce its sunscreen is a testament to the ingenuity of evolutionary adaptations, providing protection against the sun, bacterial and fungal infections, and helping regulate body temperature.

This unique adaptation not only highlights the importance of sun protection across the animal kingdom but also opens doors for scientific research. The potential applications of mimicking or harnessing the properties of the hippo’s “blood sweat” could revolutionize how we approach sunscreen and skin protection in the future.

In essence, the hippopotamus, with its hefty frame and aquatic lifestyle, is a walking, basking example of nature’s ability to find creative solutions for survival. So, the next time you reach for your bottle of sunscreen, spare a thought for the hippos, who have been basking under the African sun with their own built-in UV protection for millennia.

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Source: “How Do Some Animals Make Their Own Sunscreen?” — National Geographic


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