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 range of the dwelling macroscopic beings on our world — crops, fungi and animals — is maybe probably the most implausible. From sea to land to air and past, there isn’t a scarcity of marvels to surprise at. The sheer range and variability among the many organisms that thrive on Earth is big, however now we 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.

Probably the most 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 shade to their lengthy, versatile necks and oddly proportioned payments, there aren’t many different animals like them. However the flamingo is maybe finest recognized for an odd habits: they’ll typically be discovered standing on one leg. There’s a scientific purpose for this, nevertheless it’s based mostly in physics, not biology.

flamingo one leg

A small flock of flamingos, as proven right here on dry land, will typically observe merely standing on one leg, quite 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 a recognized benefit to participating on this habits on dry land, save for the truth that with out feathers, conserving that leg tucked in might hold it hotter.

(Credit score: AlkeMade/Pixabay)

Think about that you simply’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 conserving 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 immediately, 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 strong 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. As a way to transfer a foot to control or fire up a possible meals supply, in order that the flamingo can try to chew it at a important second, the flamingo should hold 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 — might 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 shade not due to any inherent pigments they produce, however quite 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 ends in paler, whiter flamingos.

The higher flamingo, Phoenicpterus roseus, isn’t at all times purple or pink in shade, however might be white relying on their food regimen. Right here, a flock of flamingos are seen on shore, maybe to keep away from warmth loss through the much less scorching components 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, nonetheless, you’ll typically 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 places the place they’ll stand and feed just by traversing the physique of water they’re on.

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They interact in intricate collective shows, the place a whole bunch and even hundreds of flamingos can coordinate head-flag, wing-salute, twist-preen, and marching actions, amongst others. Flamingos additionally spend a whole lot of time preening, the place they distribute oil secreted from the bottom of their tail to their feathers; this helps waterproof the hen’s physique. (Flamingos preen as much as 3 occasions longer than most different waterfowl.) And once 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 whether it can stand on one leg, two legs, or another contorted place. Throughout bathing, flamingos totally 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 appear like a showering flamingo is in super misery. In any case, for virtually on a regular basis a flamingo will spend within the water, you’ll hardly ever 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 recognized for: standing on one leg, with the opposite one tucked tight in opposition to its feathered physique.

This Andean flamingo might 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 shade 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 exhibits us that it intends to lose its physique warmth as slowly as potential 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 variations which can be explicit to the flamingo, the way it may presumably be evolutionarily advantageous to develop a habits the place an animal prefers standing on one leg quite than two.

However there’s an necessary purpose for this and it isn’t genetic; it’s physics! The truth is, it’s the science of thermodynamics and warmth switch, and it’s one thing that you simply’ve probably skilled for your self, firsthand, in the event you’ve ever gone into the pool on a scorching summer season’s day. In any case, like all mammals and birds, people and flamingos are each warm-blooded, with resting physique temperatures which can be hotter than the encompassing setting, even underneath comparatively excessive circumstances.

This picture exhibits a well-recognized sight to most mother and father: 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. Below such circumstances, small warm-blooded creatures will lose a considerable amount of their physique warmth to the watery setting. With warmth switch charges which can be 25 occasions 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)

If you happen to, a human being with a resting physique temperature of about 37 °C (98.6 °F), had been to face bare whereas uncovered to the surface air, you’ll lose your physique warmth to the encompassing setting at a selected charge. A flamingo, working a bit hotter than the common human at 41 °C (106 °F), will lose warmth a bit of extra rapidly, because the temperature distinction between a flamingo’s physique and the encompassing air is bigger than that of a human’s physique with respect to the identical air.

Nevertheless, in the event you had been to submerge your whole physique in water quite than air, even when the air and water are the very same temperature, you’d end up shedding physique warmth extremely quick: 25 occasions extra rapidly than in air. The last word arbiter of how rapidly a scorching supply in a chilly setting loses its warmth is because of a mixture of temperature variations, the floor space involved with the setting, and the effectivity of warmth switch between the new supply and the chilly setting.

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 occasions 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 usually solely put two ft into the water when shifting or actively feeding.

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

For a human being, in the event 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 charge of warmth switch between a human physique and air vs. water, you’d lose the identical quantity of warmth by that one submerged foot as you’ll by your entire remainder of your physique, assuming the water and air are the identical temperature.

What about in the event 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 occasions as rapidly as if it had been on dry land alone.

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

pink flamingos

In heat, shallow our bodies of water, pink flamingos can typically be discovered wading, preening, and looking for meals. The dearth 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 shade than a extra stereotypical pink or purple, however the habits of standing on one foot as a substitute of two does efficiently reduce 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 similar flamingo with two legs within the water will lose someplace between 140–170% the full physique warmth that the flamingo on one leg loses. Meaning the flamingo that does be taught the popular habits — standing on one leg — is free to spend extra time within the water: extra time feeding, grooming itself, scouting the waters, and so on.

Briefly, a flamingo that learns to face on one leg can have extra possibilities for evolutionary success and survival than one which stands on two legs. The flamingos might not be sensible sufficient to know that it’s necessary to face on one leg within the water however not a lot within the air; as a substitute, it seems to be a habits that flamingos interact in no matter their setting. And, so far as scientists can inform, there’s no gene for standing on one leg; quite, it’s a habits 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 be taught correct flamingo habits from the adults of their flocks virtually instantly. Right here, a younger flamingo chick practices dancing, a necessary group habits throughout mating season, in entrance of a gaggle of mature grownup flamingos. From the earliest levels in a flamingo’s life, behaviors resembling preening, bathing, dancing and standing on one foot are handed down from technology to technology.

(Credit score: Tambako The Jaguar/flickr)

Fortuitously 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 variations are sometimes sloppy, inelegant options in biology, because the ‘advantageous’ habits of standing on one leg offers a bonus solely whereas within the water. However maybe it’s extra advantageous than we notice for the flamingo to observe that balancing act on land as properly; maybe that is the optimum habits in any case.

It’s a spectacular side of our actuality that we are able to perceive sure facets of behavioral ecology by merely comprehending the physics that governs each warm-blooded animal’s biology. Whereas evolution is essentially ruled by inherited traits, generally an acquired, behavioral trait could make all of the distinction in survival. With regards to flamingos standing on one leg, genetics gained’t aid you resolve the puzzle in any respect. For that? A bit physics will take you all the way in which house.

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