Congratulations - you have found the easter egg - or in this case, the flamingo egg- on our website!
At SciMingo, we adopted the flamingo as a spirit animal for our organisation. The flamingo is a beautiful animal, a symbol of creativity and balance.
But did you know that there is also a lot of exciting science behind the iconic animal? Here we share five fascinating facts about the flamingo.
1. Genetically related to the grebe and the pigeon
For a long time, it was thought that the flamingo was related to the stork, due to the physical similarities between the two species. But a large-scale genetic study of 169 bird species, published in Science in 2008, revealed a much more surprising relationship. For example, the flamingo is said to be descended from the grebe and is a distant second cousin to the pigeon.
2. The dead flamingo trick
When you think of a flamingo, you immediately picture the graceful animal in its characteristic pose, standing on one foot in the water. Scientists have been trying to find out for a long time why the flamingo stands on one leg so often and how it can maintain this position for so long without getting tired. They have come up with many hypotheses: keeping one leg close to the body would help them conserve heat, keeping only one leg in the water would make them less susceptible to parasites, and yet another theory is that standing on one leg reduces muscle fatigue, allowing flamingos to move faster when threatened by predators.
"Researchers managed to balance a dead flamingo on one leg, without any support."
In 2017, research on a dead specimen revealed the most conclusive reason: scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology managed to balance a dead flamingo on one leg, without any support. They discovered that the flamingo is built in such a way that the weight of the bird causes the knee and ankle joints to lock, as it were. In that characteristic resting position on one leg, a flamingo is then completely stable. It requires less effort than standing on two legs, which helps the animal to save a lot of energy.
3. What’s in a name
You will rarely see a flamingo on its own. Unless it is a stray individual, like a few years ago in the Zwin, a nature reserve at the Belgian coast. They much prefer to live together in a large group. In English, such a group of flamingos is -beautifully- called "a flamboyance of flamingos", whereas in Dutch they stick to the uninspired "a group of flamingos".
4. Safety in numbers
Living in a large group has to do with safety. When they are feeding, flamingos stick their heads into the water, looking for food. Upside down, it is of course not so easy to see danger coming. A friendly neighbour is, therefore, a must: they can keep an eye on things and warn for predators when necessary.
5. The striking colour
The most striking feature of flamingos is their pink colour. But that is not how they hatch. Young flamingos are grey for the first few years and only turn pink after a while.
"Flamingos get their bright pink colour from eating food high in carotenoids. Those pigments give animals red, pink and orange colours."
With flamingos, the rule is: you are what you eat. Eating food high in carotenoids gives them that bright pink colour. Carotenoids are pigments that give animals red, pink and orange colours and are found, for example, in algae, larvae and shrimps. The more flamingos eat of these, the brighter their colour.
From an evolutionary point of view, a bright pink colour is very important for flamingos. It is a clear signal to the other birds, stating "I am healthy and fit, because I am able to collect food". This makes the pink flamingo a more attractive partner than its dull neighbour.