This is how sunscreen looks to birds and bees

That's how you look if you are pale and take care of your skin. These are two pictures of the same man, except one was taken with a UV filter. Why does he look like those dudes in that one terrible episode of Star Trek? Strategically applied sunscreen.

We can't see UV light, so to us sunscreen is a cream to be rubbed into the skin until it's invisible and forgotten. But the whole point of sunscreen is to block out certain types of light, specifically the ultraviolet radiation that does a number on our skin. When seen through a filter that picks up only UV light, sunscreen looks black, and when pale people rub it in they are blackening their faces and hands.


Although humans can see only visible light, many insects and birds can see UV light as clearly as they can see other frequencies of light. Someone who puts on sunscreen on a bright day can appear totally different to their pet bird. Someone who seems to exactly match their background to our eyes sticks out like a sore thumb to a butterfly. Although it's a minor thing, it's worth it to remember that other species experience the world in ways that are utterly alien to us.

If you want to see how alien, here are three pictures of the same woman: one in UV, the next in visible light, and the third in infrared.

Images: Nick Spiker


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