PINK flamingo...but why?


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    When you are taking a trip to the zoo there are always questions that arise when you see the cool animals. One of the questions that I have always had when I am at the zoo is 'why are flamingos pink?' I figured this could easily be answered after a little bit of research; and I was right. A lot of assumptions always have to do with what these pink creatures eat, but is this really what is making them this awesome color? Scientists have revealed just what makes the color of flamingos so bright and fun.
     Flamingos eat a lot of crustaceans that all contain pigments called carotenoids. These said pigments are mostly found in brine shrimp and blue-green algae, which are the most common things for flamingos to eat. Essentially, what happens is that the liver breaks down the carotenoids into the pink and orange pigment molecules deposited in the feathers, legs, and bill of the birds. The flamingos that eat primarily just the algae have a deeper color than the birds that eat small animals that feed off of the algae.
   Flamingos that are captive (in the zoo) are fed a specific diet that includes prawns and additives such as beta-carotene and/or canthaxanthin. Flamingos in the zoo would lose their pink color in the zoo if it weren't for these additives. If the flamingos were not fed these they would be either a very pale pink or just plain white. Flamingos are not the only things that eat foods containing carotenoids, people do too! Carrots and watermelon are two common foods with this is it; we though, do not eat enough to actually change the color of our skin.
  The real question now is...Can we turn pink if we ate enough of these carotenoid rich foods?



5 Comments

Hey Brooke!This is a funny article to read about.I have to say that one of the bizarre animals which impressed me is flamingo.I've seen them almost every time when I went to zoo,but I sort of gazed into their body shapes rather than colors.Yeah,girls love pink,that probably being the reason for you to blog about it.I thought the correlation between animal's dietary habits and their physical appearance sometimes can be really enlightening.As you said,flamingos kept in the zoo are fed with specially-prepared potion to paint them literally a pink color.But my question kicks in,is this additive-adulterated dietary programs really harmless to flamingos or it does bads to them but we simply haven't found out yet?After all,we are modifying their congenital eating patterns.

Hi Brooke. Interesting article right here. I used to have the same question with you! Apparently, flamingos are rare in Thailand...I can't really remember how many times I've actually seen an "actual" flamingo. However, I did see lots of flamingos through Discovery Channel and of course my favorite computer game of all time, The Sims (where we can put fake flamingos in our backyard). I still remember how I heard from many several places that flamingos are pink because they eat shrimp. After finished reading your article, I was doing some little research about this topic. There was this interesting fact about how carotenoids somewhat has a huge role in "coloring". Not only flamingos that are affected by these carotenoids, other animals do too. Salmon for example are orange because of foods they eat, which contain carotenoid. On the other hand, like what you've mentioned about how flamingos in the zoo can lose their pink color to pale-ish pink if not fed with foods containing carotenoids, the farm-rasied salmon that do not feed with carotenoids can also have slightly gray color too. (unless these salmons are feeding with carotenoid astaxanthin. Somehow, there is this question pops up into my head, do you think flamingos can have different colors other than pink? I mean, do you think it is possible that the foods they eat be altered to change different colors? Purple? Green? Black? On the other hand, what if a color change (rather than pink) will lead to a reduction of their reproductive attraction!? That would be interesting too! :D


Hi Brooke! To answer your question on whether or not we can change color from eating a lot of carotenoid rich foods... Yes. Of course we won't turn bright pink like a flamingo, but the skin can begin to yellow especially in the palms of hands and soles of feet from eating a lot of these foods. I personally remeber it happening to my littel cousin as a toddler. She was in love with baby carrots, and it was the only thing she would eat without making a fuss for quite a while. Then her skin started turning yellowish-orange. According to an article in the healthy eating section of SFGate, it is completely harmless for this to haqppen from drinking a lot carrot juice or eating a lot of veggies with carotene in it, but it can be dangerous when it results from taking to many beta-carotene supplements.

I found it interesting that the food we consume has an effect on our appearance. It makes sense but I never had thought that our skin color could actually be influenced by something as seemingly minor as food we eat. I decided to look into how it can affect a human rather than simply flamingos. I found a post by a professor at Cornell, http://www.ccmr.cornell.edu/education/ask/index.html?quid=592. He said that even though our skin color does not typically actually change from the food we consume, it can have an effect on how our skin reacts to the sun. People who consume more colorful foods will actually have skin that is less sensitive to the sun. Has anyone else ever heard of this? I find this to be very interesting and I would be fascinated to hear more about why this exactly happens.

I found it interesting that the food we consume has an effect on our appearance. It makes sense but I never had thought that our skin color could actually be influenced by something as seemingly minor as food we eat. I decided to look into how it can affect a human rather than simply flamingos. I found a post by a professor at Cornell, http://www.ccmr.cornell.edu/education/ask/index.html?quid=592. He said that even though our skin color does not typically actually change from the food we consume, it can have an effect on how our skin reacts to the sun. People who consume more colorful foods will actually have skin that is less sensitive to the sun. Has anyone else ever heard of this? I find this to be very interesting and I would be fascinated to hear more about why this exactly happens.

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