Thursday, 24 September 2015

Why Flamingos Are Pinkish-Orange

The short answer is, flamingos are pinkish-orange because they eat shrimps.

As for the longer answer...

Living by lakes, swamps and wetlands, flamingos feed on algae and small crustaceans — like shrimp and mollusks — that contain pigments called carotenoids. These strong coloured pigments are mostly found in brine shrimp and in red and blue-green algae.

Shrimps live off of algae, which makes the flamingo's diet full of carotenoids. 

This nutritious, natural chemical, which is an organic compound, contained in their food is called beta carotene — a type of carotenoid — and it is the cause that the flamingos’ feathers, bills, and legs turn pink. Turn, because when flamingos hatch, their feathers are actually a drab light gray the colouring takes place as they mature. If the birds were to stop eating food containing carotenoids, their new feathers would begin to grow in with a much more pale shade and the existing pinkish-orange pigment will eventually vanish.

Note that there are six different species of flamingo, spread across the Caribbean and South America, Africa, India, and the Mediterranean. Depending on the amount of pigment present in the birds' diet, flamingos' colours can range from pale pink to crimson. The reason is that carotenoid levels in algae and crustaceans vary in different parts of the world. So for example, flamingos of Lake Nakuru in central Kenya are pale pink while the ones found in the Caribbean are more bright redish-orange. 

Being the building block the bodies of humans, animals, and birds use to produce Vitamin A, beta-carotene is an extremely vital compound. It is the same chemical which makes carrots orange. The same goes for salmon and trout who equally owe their pink colour to carotenoids deposited in their body fat.

Interestingly, this bit of information reminded me of a story my mother used to tell us.

When she was younger and trying some kind of a diet, she ate lots and lots of carrots. So her skin turned orange. When she consulted a doctor, he almost automatically knew what it was about and told her that what she had is called Carotenemia; and it is a clinical condition characterized by yellow pigmentation of the skin (Xanthoderma) and increased beta-carotene levels in the blood. In most cases, the condition follows prolonged and excessive consumption of carotene-rich foods, such as carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes.

Apart from learning why flamingos are pinkish-orange, now if you ever meet an orange person you may have an idea why. Make sure to watch their remarkable mating dance in the video below for a quick giggle. 

Lake Nakuru located in the middle of Kenya is home for millions of flamingos


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