healthy and balanced flamingos can often be spotted cohabitating in large flocks, through a deep pink color,... <+> standing on one leg other than when they"re feeding, bathing, or on the move. Here, the flamingo in the main foreground conserves much more body warmth than if it were standing on 2 legs, when the one slightly farther back seeks the end potential food sources in the shallow waters.

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Of every the organic marvels unique to planet Earth, the diversity the the life macroscopic us on our human being – plants, fungi and also animals – is maybe the many fantastic. Native sea to land come air and beyond, there are no shortages of marvels come wonder at. The sheer diversity and also variability among the biology that grow on earth is enormous, yet we have ways of expertise the relationship in between each biology in an eco-friendly niche and also the means it has physically and behaviorally adapted to to fill it.


One the the many surprising pets found in nature is the flamingo. Indigenous a physical perspective, they’re fairly unusual. From their long, skinny foot to your distinctive, pink color to your long, flexible necks and oddly proportioned bills, over there aren’t countless other animals like them. However the flamingo is perhaps finest known for an odd behavior: they can often be uncovered standing on one leg. Yes sir a scientific factor for this, but it’s based in physics, no biology.


A comprehensive flock of flamingos, as presented here on dry land, will regularly practice just standing on... <+> one leg, rather than two. If standing ~ above one leg offers flamingos with heat-retention advantages over a flamingo stand on 2 legs in the water, there is no known advantage to engaging in this actions on dried land.

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Imagine the you"re a flamingo. You take trip as component of a flock because that protection. Her long, skinny legs are terrific for enabling you to stand in water as deep together your foot are lengthy while still maintaining your body dry and warm. Your webbed feet allow you come stir up seafloor creatures, one foot at a time, through muddying the waters. And your long, versatile neck and also bizarre bill, where the the lower portion is longer and thicker than the top portion, is extremely well-adapted come feeding top top the stirred-up algae, crustaceans, larvae, small fish, and also other similarly-sized creatures.

When a flamingo is in the process of feeding, either by stirring up the waters or by plunging that head in to seek bite-sized morsels directly, you"ll discover it with both feet in the water. Unlike birds which room diving feeders, favor ducks, flamingos just feed through both feet stably on solid ground, also underwater.


Flamingos, displayed probing the water for food through their oddly shaped and also uniquely adapted bills, will... <+> never ever stand top top one leg while castle feed. In bespeak to move a foot to manipulate or stir increase a potential food source, so the the flamingo deserve to attempt to bite it in ~ a an essential moment, the flamingo need to keep its various other foot ~ above the ground underneath the water.

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Many the the characteristics that we think of together being inherent to the flamingo— both biologically and also behaviorally— can be described by some fairly simple science.

Flamingos have both long legs and long necks in tandem, as biological evolution would favor those specimens that can reliably feeding in both shallow and also deep water without obtaining their bodies wet. As soon as food in the shallows becomes scarce, the flamingos that deserve to feed, by muddying-the-water and also then digging-with-their beaks, will be the ones the survive. Flamingos have their characteristic pink-to-red color not because of any kind of inherent pigments castle produce, however rather because the crustaceans and also algae the they eat— mainstays that a flamingo"s diet— room rich in carotenoid pigments. A dearth the the colours in a flamingo"s diet results in paler, whiter flamingos.
The better flamingo, Phoenicpterus roseus, isn"t always red or pink in color, however can it is in white... <+> depending on their diet. Here, a i m crying of flamingos room seen feeding; the fact that both feet and their necks/heads space in the water shows without a doubt that this is feeding time.

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When lock aren"t feeding, however, you"ll often find flamingos in the water anyway. Flamingos are incredibly social, so when one the them makes a move to enter the water, others will quickly follow. Flamingos are terrific swimmers, therefore they have the right to reach places where they deserve to stand and feed merely by traversing the human body of water they"re on.

They connect in intricate cumulative displays, whereby hundreds or also thousands of flamingos deserve to coordinate head-flag, wing-salute, twist-preen, and also marching movements, among others. Flamingos additionally spend a the majority of time preening, whereby they distribute oil secreted native the basic of their tail to your feathers; this help waterproof the bird"s body. (Flamingos preen as much as 3 times longer than many other waterfowl.) and when lock bathe, i beg your pardon they commonly only carry out in shallow freshwater, castle submerge their whole bodies.


as soon as flamingos bathe themselves, i beg your pardon they only do in shallow waters, all bets room off as to... <+> even if it is it will stand on one leg, 2 legs, or some various other contorted position. During bathing, flamingos completely intend to gain their whole bodies wet, from head-to-toe, and also do for this reason in a universally awkward, uncoordinated display.

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To one unfamiliar observer, it might look like a shower flamingo is in tremendous distress. After all, for practically all the moment a flamingo will invest in the water, you"ll just rarely uncover it:

swimming, walking, muddying the waters, feeding v its beak hurry under the water, or bathing itself.

Instead, you"re far an ext likely to uncover a flamingo, if it"s in the water (or also if it"s ~ above land), law what they"re ideal known for: stand on one leg, v the various other one tucked tight against its feathered body.


In the Dresden Zoo in Germany, a flamingo have the right to be seen standing on one foot in its enclosure in the... <+> rain. Its deep pink color tells united state that that diet has actually been wealthy in carotinoid pigments; the fact that it"s was standing on one leg shows us the it intends to shed its body warmth as progressively as feasible while still experimenting the waters for potential food sources.(Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance via Getty Images)

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You might be confused by this; ~ all, most human being are. You"re probably wondering, offered all the various biological and also behavioral adaptations that are specific to the flamingo, exactly how it might possibly it is in evolutionarily useful to build a actions where an pet prefers standing on one leg rather than two.

But there"s an essential reason because that this and also it isn"t genetic; it"s physics! In fact, it"s the scientific research of thermodynamics and also heat transfer, and it"s something that you"ve most likely experienced for yourself, firsthand, if you"ve ever gone into the pool on a hot summer"s day. After ~ all, favor all mammals and also birds, humans and flamingos space both warm-blooded, with resting body temperature that space hotter than the neighboring environment, also under fairly extreme conditions.


A acquainted sight to many parents, a shivering, cold kid who has actually spent too much consecutive time... <+> immersed in water will have actually lost a large amount of your body warmth to the watery environment. With warm transfer rates that are 25 time as great between the human being body and also water compared to the person body and also air, the traditional wisdom to obtain out that the pool in order to warmth up is borne out by experience... And physics.

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If you, a human being through a relaxing body temperature that about37 °C (98.6 °F), were to was standing naked if exposed come the exterior air, girlfriend would shed your body warmth to the surrounding environment at a certain rate. A flamingo, running a little hotter than the average human at41°C (106°F), will lose heat a little more quickly, together the temperature difference between a flamingo"s body and the neighboring air is higher than that of a human"s body through respect come the exact same air.

However, if you to be to submerge your entire body in water quite than air, also with the precise same temperature because that the water as for the air, you"d find yourself shedding body heat extremely fast: 25 times more quickly 보다 in air. The can be fried arbiter the how conveniently a hot source in a cold setting loses its heat is because of a combination of temperature differences, the surface area in contact with the environment, and also the efficiency of warm transfer between the hot resource and the cold environment.


This swim operation from Sydney, Australia, bring away swimmers from dried land through open up water come another... <+> destination, likewise on land. A swimmer could lose heat at a certain rate while on dry land, but will shed that heat 25 times quicker if lock are totally submerged in water. Even putting one foot in water, only up to your ankle, can dual your rate of body heat loss. (Steve Christo/Corbis via Getty Images)

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For a human being, if you put simply one foot in a human body of water, up to your ankle, you"ll submerge roughly 4% of your body"s complete surface area. Due to the fact that of the difference in the rate of warm transfer in between a person body and air vs. Water, you"d shed the very same amount of warm through that one submerged foot as you would v the whole rest of her body, assuming the water and air room the very same temperature.

What around if you"re a flamingo, then? If a flamingo stands in the water on 2 legs, those legs— and, in particular, those webbed feet v their enormous surface area— can easily cause a flamingo to shed its human body heat plenty of times as conveniently as if it to be on dry land alone.

But if a flamingo learn to was standing on one leg instead of two when it"s in the water, it deserve to conserve that is body heat far more effectively.


follow me the Rhone river in Camargue, France, pink flamingos can regularly be found wading, preening, and... <+> looking for food. The lack of carotenoid pigments in their food supply reasons these specific flamingos to be closer come a white shade than a more stereotypical pink or red, however the actions of stand on one foot rather of 2 cuts their body warmth loss virtually in half.

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Compared to a flamingo in the water that stands top top one leg, an identical flamingo through two foot in the water will shed somewhere in between 140-170% the full body warm that the flamingo ~ above one leg loses. That way the flamingo the does learn the preferred behavior — was standing on one leg — is complimentary to spend an ext time in the water: much more time feeding, organize itself, scouting the waters, etc.

In short, a flamingo that learns to was standing on one leg will have much more chances because that evolutionary success and also survival 보다 one that stands on two legs. The flamingos may not it is in smart enough to know that it"s necessary to stand on one foot in the water however not so much in the air; instead, it shows up to be a habits that flamingos interact in nevertheless of their environment. And, as much as scientists have the right to tell, there"s no gene because that standing top top one leg; rather, it"s a behavior that it s okay passed down from a mommy flamingo to her offspring as she raises them.


juvenile flamingos, indigenous their early days as a chick, start to learn suitable flamingo habits from... <+> the adult in your flocks nearly immediately. Here, a young flamingo chick methods dancing, an essential group habits during adjustment season, in former of a team of maturation adult flamingos. Native the earliest stages in a flamingo"s life, actions such as preening, bathing, dancing and also standing top top one foot room passed under from generation come generation.

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Fortunately because that the flamingo, the moment they invest on one leg as soon as it isn"t an especially advantageous (on dry land) doesn"t appear to be an impediment to your success either. Behavior adaptations are frequently sloppy, inelegant solutions in biology, as the "advantageous" behavior of was standing on one leg offers an advantage only when in the water. However perhaps it"s more advantageous than we realize because that the flamingo to practice that balancing act on land together well; probably this is the optimal habits after all.

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It"s a spectacular page of our fact that we can understand certain aspects of behavior ecology by simply comprehending the physics that govern"s every warm-blooded animal"s biology. While development is largely governed by inherited traits, sometimes an acquired, behavior trait deserve to make all the distinction in survival. As soon as it involves flamingos standing on one leg, genes won"t aid you settle the puzzle in ~ all. Because that that? A small physics will take you all the method home.


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I am a Ph.D. Astrophysicist, author, and science communicator, that professes physics and astronomy at various colleges. I have actually won many awards for scientific research writing since 2008 because that my blog, Starts through A Bang, consisting of the compensation for finest science blog by the institute of Physics. My two books, Treknology: The science of Star Trek native Tricorders come Warp Drive, beyond the Galaxy: exactly how humanity looked past our Milky way and discovered the entire Universe, are easily accessible for purchase at Amazon. Follow me top top Twitter