Why are flamingos pink?

Free stock photo of bird, water, summer, rocks

With”That’s just the way it is”. Elephants are gray, canaries are yellow, so why shouldn’t flamingos be pink? Well, there actually is an excellent reason.

First of all, young flamingos aren’t pink, they are grey (like an elephant) for about the first three decades of life, and they turn pink. Not all adult flamingos are pink either, though most are either pink or a shade of red close to pink. Of the five species of flamingo in existence, the Caribbean flamingo, is actually a very bright crimson red. In general, adult flamingos are red, pink, or somewhere in between. That still begs the question however, “Why are Flamingos Pink”.

Genetics would seem to be the obvious answer, but it’s not the best one. There is the old saying”You are what you eat”, and flamingos are pink because of their diet. If you put a flamingo in captivity, and give it something to eat rather than its usual diet, the bird will so start to lose its coloring, and become more white than pink. The fact that we don’t see more white flamingos in zoos is because the zookeepers are careful to provide the flamingos a distinctive flamingo food, containing all the nutrients they would get in their natural habitats.

A flamingo’s diet is high in beta-carotene, the exact same substance we consume when we eat carrots. Among other things, flamingos eat crustaceans, particularly shrimp. Their natural habitat is in shallow lakes and wetlands, where fish have a tendency to flourish. Flamingos also eat algae, another source of beta-carotine and carotenoid pigments (red). When you think of it, someone who likes carrots and eats a few a day can take on a slightly orange hue to their complexion. That really happens, and isn’t unhealthy though it may look so.

, you can truthfully say that it’s because they eat shrimp. You can go into some detail with the cartenoid piece if you wish, but for our purposes, just saying shrimp should suffice. Then if you are pressed, you can mention cartenoids and beta-carotine, like that’s something everybody should already know!

If the individual still doesn’t believe your response, you can tell them that flamingos also fly and march, two more facts about flamingos that definitely are true. We’re so used to seeing flamingos from the zoo only standing on one leg (it’s the most comfortable way for them to stand), or as lawn ornaments in the neighborhood, we forget that they are quite capable of flight, and in fact fly from one location to another in enormous flocks. Insofar as marching is concerned, should you find a group (actually a colony) of flamingos on the ground, and watch them over a period of time, you’ll eventually see them march.

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