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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.