Flamingos stand on only one leg. Solely physics explains why.

Home Latest Posts Flamingos stand on only one leg. Solely physics explains why.
Flamingos stand on only one leg. Solely physics explains why.
Flamingos stand on only one leg. Solely physics explains why.

Of all of the pure marvels distinctive to planet Earth, the variety of the residing macroscopic beings on our world — vegetation, fungi and animals — is probably probably the most implausible. From sea to land to air and past, there isn’t any scarcity of marvels to marvel at. The sheer variety and variability among the many organisms that thrive on Earth is big, however we now have methods of understanding the connection between every creature in an ecological area of interest and the methods it has bodily and behaviorally tailored to fill it.

One of the shocking animals present in nature is the flamingo. From a bodily perspective, they’re fairly uncommon. From their lengthy, skinny legs to their distinctive, pink coloration to their lengthy, versatile necks and oddly proportioned payments, there aren’t many different animals like them. However the flamingo is probably finest identified for an odd conduct: they will usually be discovered standing on one leg. There’s a scientific purpose for this, but it surely’s based mostly in physics, not biology.

flamingo one leg

A small flock of flamingos, as proven right here on dry land, will usually apply merely standing on one leg, slightly than two. Whereas standing on one leg offers flamingos with heat-retention benefits over a flamingo standing on two legs within the water, there isn’t any identified benefit to participating on this conduct on dry land, save for the truth that with out feathers, protecting that leg tucked in could maintain it hotter.

(Credit score: AlkeMade/Pixabay)

Think about that you just’re a flamingo. You journey as a part of a flock for cover. Your lengthy, skinny legs are wonderful for enabling you to face in water as deep as your legs are lengthy whereas nonetheless protecting your physique dry and heat. Your webbed ft allow you to fire up seafloor creatures, one foot at a time, by muddying the waters. And your lengthy, versatile neck and weird invoice, the place the the decrease portion is longer and thicker than the higher portion, is extraordinarily well-adapted to feeding on the stirred-up algae, crustaceans, larvae, small fish, and different similarly-sized creatures.

When a flamingo is within the strategy of feeding, both by stirring up the waters or by plunging its head in to hunt bite-sized morsels instantly, you’ll discover it with each ft within the water. In contrast to birds that are diving feeders, like geese, flamingos solely feed with each ft stably on stable floor, even underwater.

Flamingos, proven probing the water for meals with their oddly formed and uniquely tailored payments, won’t ever stand on one leg whereas they feed. With the intention to transfer a foot to control or fire up a possible meals supply, in order that the flamingo can try to chunk it at a crucial second, the flamingo should maintain its different foot on the bottom beneath the water.

(Credit score: J.M.Garg/Wikimedia Commons)

Most of the traits that we consider as being inherent to the flamingo — each biologically and behaviorally — may be defined by some comparatively easy science.

  • Flamingos have each lengthy legs and lengthy necks in tandem, as organic evolution would favor these specimens that may reliably feed in each shallow and deep water with out getting their our bodies moist. When meals within the shallows turns into scarce, the flamingos that may feed, by muddying-the-water after which digging-with-their beaks, would be the ones that survive.
  • Flamingos have their attribute pink-to-red coloration not due to any inherent pigments they produce, however slightly as a result of the crustaceans and algae that they eat — mainstays of a flamingo’s food regimen — are wealthy in carotenoid pigments. A dearth of the pigment in a flamingo’s food regimen leads to paler, whiter flamingos.

The larger flamingo, Phoenicpterus roseus, isn’t at all times pink or pink in coloration, however may be white relying on their food regimen. Right here, a flock of flamingos are seen on shore, maybe to keep away from warmth loss throughout the much less scorching elements of the day. When flamingos are seen with each feed within the water and their heads-and-necks rooting round beneath the water’s floor, that’s the telltale signal of feeding time.

(Credit score: Elsemargriet/Pixabay)

Once they aren’t feeding, nevertheless, you’ll usually discover flamingos within the water anyway. Flamingos are extraordinarily social, so when one among them makes a transfer to enter the water, others will quickly observe. Flamingos are wonderful swimmers, to allow them to attain areas the place they will stand and feed just by traversing the physique of water they’re on.

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They have interaction in intricate collective shows, the place a whole lot and even 1000’s of flamingos can coordinate head-flag, wing-salute, twist-preen, and marching actions, amongst others. Flamingos additionally spend a number of time preening, the place they distribute oil secreted from the bottom of their tail to their feathers; this helps waterproof the fowl’s physique. (Flamingos preen as much as 3 instances longer than most different waterfowl.) And after they bathe, which they usually solely do in shallow freshwater, they submerge their whole our bodies.

bathing flamingo

When flamingos bathe themselves, which they solely do in shallow waters, all bets are off as as to if it’s going to stand on one leg, two legs, or another contorted place. Throughout bathing, flamingos absolutely intend to get their whole our bodies moist, from head-to-toe, and accomplish that in a universally awkward, uncoordinated show, as exemplified by this one within the Moscow Zoo.

(Credit score: Корзун Андрей/Wikimedia Commons)

To an unfamiliar observer, it’d seem like a showering flamingo is in great misery. In any case, for virtually on a regular basis a flamingo will spend within the water, you’ll not often discover it:

  • swimming,
  • strolling,
  • muddying the waters,
  • feeding with its beak plunged underneath the water,
  • or bathing itself.

As a substitute, you’re much more prone to discover a flamingo, if it’s within the water (or even when it’s on land), doing what they’re finest identified for: standing on one leg, with the opposite one tucked tight towards its feathered physique.

This Andean flamingo may be seen standing on one leg in its habitat, one thing many flamingos are seen to do for over an hour at a time. The flamingo’s pink coloration tells us that its food regimen has been wealthy in carotenoid pigments; the truth that the (background) flamingo within the water is standing on one leg reveals us that it intends to lose its physique warmth as slowly as attainable whereas nonetheless exploring the waters for potential meals sources.

(Credit score: Trevor Rickard/geograph)

You could be puzzled by this; in any case, most individuals are. You’re in all probability questioning, given all of the completely different organic and behavioral diversifications which are explicit to the flamingo, the way it may presumably be evolutionarily advantageous to develop a conduct the place an animal prefers standing on one leg slightly than two.

However there’s an essential purpose for this and it isn’t genetic; it’s physics! In actual fact, it’s the science of thermodynamics and warmth switch, and it’s one thing that you just’ve probably skilled for your self, firsthand, should you’ve ever gone into the pool on a scorching summer time’s day. In any case, like all mammals and birds, people and flamingos are each warm-blooded, with resting physique temperatures which are hotter than the encircling atmosphere, even underneath comparatively excessive circumstances.

This picture reveals a well-recognized sight to most dad and mom: a set of shivering, chilly youngsters who’ve spent an excessive amount of consecutive time immersed in water that’s properly under their physique temperature. Beneath such circumstances, small warm-blooded creatures will lose a considerable amount of their physique warmth to the watery atmosphere. With warmth switch charges which are 25 instances as nice between the human physique and water in comparison with the human physique and air, the traditional knowledge to “get out of the pool in order to warm up” is borne out by each expertise and the legal guidelines of physics.

(Credit score: Dustin Cox/flickr)

In case you, a human being with a resting physique temperature of about 37 °C (98.6 °F), have been to face bare whereas uncovered to the skin air, you’ll lose your physique warmth to the encircling atmosphere at a selected price. A flamingo, operating a bit hotter than the typical human at 41 °C (106 °F), will lose warmth a bit extra rapidly, because the temperature distinction between a flamingo’s physique and the encircling air is larger than that of a human’s physique with respect to the identical air.

Nevertheless, should you have been to submerge your whole physique in water slightly than air, even when the air and water are the very same temperature, you’d end up shedding physique warmth extremely quick: 25 instances extra rapidly than in air. The final word arbiter of how rapidly a scorching supply in a chilly atmosphere loses its warmth is because of a mix of temperature variations, the floor space in touch with the atmosphere, and the effectivity of warmth switch between the new supply and the chilly atmosphere.

For a similar temperature distinction between a warm-blooded animal’s physique on the interface of air or water, the warmth loss will happen 25 instances quicker in water than in air. A human being that submerges only a portion of 1 limb into water will lose their warmth twice as quick as in comparison with being uncovered to air alone; flamingos typically solely put two ft into the water when shifting or actively feeding.

(Credit score: Bunches and Bits {Karina}/flickr)

For a human being, should you put only one foot in a physique of water, as much as your ankle, you’ll submerge roughly 4% of your physique’s whole floor space. Due to the distinction within the price of warmth switch between a human physique and air vs. water, you’d lose the identical quantity of warmth by way of that one submerged foot as you’ll by way of your entire remainder of your physique, assuming the water and air are the identical temperature.

What about should you’re a flamingo, then? If a flamingo stands within the water on two legs, these legs — and, specifically, these webbed ft with their monumental floor space — can simply trigger a flamingo to lose its physique warmth many instances as rapidly as if it have been on dry land alone.

But when a flamingo learns to face on one leg as an alternative of two when it’s within the water, it could possibly preserve its physique warmth much more successfully.

pink flamingos

In heat, shallow our bodies of water, pink flamingos can usually be discovered wading, preening, and trying to find meals. The shortage of carotenoid pigments of their meals provide, notable in some (however not all) of the flamingos proven right here, causes many of those explicit flamingos to be nearer to a white coloration than a extra stereotypical pink or pink, however the conduct of standing on one foot as an alternative of two does efficiently lower their physique warmth loss practically in half.

(Credit score: gayulo/pixabay)

In comparison with a flamingo within the water that stands on one leg, an an identical flamingo with two legs within the water will lose someplace between 140–170% the whole physique warmth that the flamingo on one leg loses. Meaning the flamingo that does study the popular conduct — standing on one leg — is free to spend extra time within the water: extra time feeding, grooming itself, scouting the waters, and so forth.

In brief, a flamingo that learns to face on one leg may have extra possibilities for evolutionary success and survival than one which stands on two legs. The flamingos will not be good sufficient to know that it’s essential to face on one leg within the water however not a lot within the air; as an alternative, it seems to be a conduct that flamingos have interaction in no matter their atmosphere. And, so far as scientists can inform, there’s no gene for standing on one leg; slightly, it’s a conduct that will get handed down from a mom flamingo to her offspring as she raises them.

baby flamingo

Juvenile flamingos, from their early days as a chick, start to study correct flamingo conduct from the adults of their flocks virtually instantly. Right here, a younger flamingo chick practices dancing, a necessary group conduct throughout mating season, in entrance of a gaggle of mature grownup flamingos. From the earliest phases in a flamingo’s life, behaviors resembling preening, bathing, dancing and standing on one foot are handed down from era to era.

(Credit score: Tambako The Jaguar/flickr)

Happily for the flamingo, the time they spend on one leg when it isn’t significantly advantageous (on dry land) doesn’t look like an obstacle to their success both. Behavioral diversifications are sometimes sloppy, inelegant options in biology, because the ‘advantageous’ conduct of standing on one leg offers a bonus solely whereas within the water. However maybe it’s extra advantageous than we understand for the flamingo to apply that balancing act on land as properly; maybe that is the optimum conduct in any case.

It’s a spectacular aspect of our actuality that we will perceive sure facets of behavioral ecology by merely comprehending the physics that governs each warm-blooded animal’s biology. Whereas evolution is basically ruled by inherited traits, typically an acquired, behavioral trait could make all of the distinction in survival. On the subject of flamingos standing on one leg, genetics received’t assist you clear up the puzzle in any respect. For that? A little bit physics will take you all the best way house.

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