Why Are Flamingos Pink?
Flamingos are possibly the most beautiful birds on the planet, with their gorgeous pink plumage, long legs, wonderful slim necks and exquisitely shaped beaks. We like them so much, some of us put replicas of them on our front lawns.
I guess the most striking thing about these birds is their color. That bright stunning pink that just kind of stands out and grabs you. Makes you wonder why they are so pink.
Well, if that's your question, you came to the right place. Let's find out why flamingos are pink.
Where do flamingos live and what do they do?
Flamingos have been around a long time. There are fossils of them that date back to 30-50 million years ago. That's a pretty long time. I guess that's why they seem so exotic.
Flamingos are a social bird, living in colonies that can be populated by the tens of thousands of them. They tend to stay in the same spot and only move to different living circumstances if the weather calls for it or the water levels change. These birds tend to live in sub-tropical areas, inland, in salty lakes, lagoons and mangrove swamps. Those are the areas where they find food. They are able to wade through water with those long legs and scoop through the mud with those curved beaks to find food; those beaks are equipped with plates that filter the water and mud so they can get to the food, which they do by turning the beak upside down, sucking water through with their tongues and draining it out the side of their beaks. When they've gotten down to the food, they swallow it. The food that they eat is primarily brine shrimp and algae. This, in fact, is why they are pink.
The shrimp that flamingos eat turns their feathers, bills and legs pink!
Did you know flamingos are pink because they eat shrimp?
Why does shrimp make flamingos pink?
Shrimp live off of algae and both algae and shrimp contain a lot of carotenoids, otherwise known as beta-carotene. This is the stuff in carrots that helps us produce Vitamin A.
But it also contains enzymes that get broken down in the liver and turn into pigment molecules that change the color of flamingos from gray to pink, sometimes orange. Yes, when young, flamingos are actually gray. After eating heavy doses of shrimp, though, they begin to turn pink. Crazy!
It should be noted that we don't turn orange or pink from eating carrots because we don't eat nearly enough for it to change our skin tone.
However, some people take something called cathaxanthin so that their skin will appear tanned. This is what we commonly call a fake tan. Of course, it's been noticed that this stuff tends to make the skin more orange than tan.
Well, turns out this is relevant to why flamingos have their rather striking bright color. In captivity, like at the zoo, flamingos are actually given cathaxanthin to ensure their color is pink! They are fed a diet of prawns and often given beta-carotene and cathaxanthin.
By the way, cathaxanthin is used by salmon farmers to make salmon that nice appealing pink shade with an orange hue.
So, there you have it. Flamingos are pink because they eat a lot of shrimp and shrimp has beta-carotene which turns into a pigment that makes flamingos feathers, legs and bills pink!
Who would have thought?