Flamingos: Nature’s Croquet Mallet
Flamingos are very strange creatures. Popular culture has propagated the myth that flamingos are graceful creatures. That is just not so.
Let me begin by saying this blog is entirely PG.
Erectile Tissue in their Mouth.
Flamingos have an iconic way of eating: they tip their head entirely upside down and dip their beak into the water. Their tongues suck water into their mouth and separate the food from the water.
However, when after a 3D model of a flamingo’s head was made, it was noticed that there was masses of erectile tissue on the floor of the mouth and along the base of the tongue.
Turning upside caused blood to flow downwards and pool in the tissue. The tissue expands and appears to stabilize the floor of the mouth. It also aids the tongue in filtering water – this might be the only reason flamingos are able to feed in their unique way.
Legs that go for miles
Spying on a flamboyance (that’s a collective noun) of flamingos you might be shocked to see how many of them would be standing on one leg. Even in water – where you might expect a need for stability – flamingos tend to stand on one leg.
Biologists have often wondered, why?
If you were to balance on one leg, you would quickly find it wasn’t a sustainable activity. A flamingo is functionally built like a mass on sticks – like even the slightest breeze could knock them over. Nature seems to agree; there have been cases of flamingos being blown away like umbrellas.
Two main theories have been proposed, relating to thermoregulation and lower muscle fatigue.
Heat loss is a logical explanation – the less contact you have with water, the less heat you lose. As warm-blooded creatures, flamingos lose up to 25 times more heat in water than in air (relative to surface area). Due to the large surface area of a flamingo’s leg, they would lose 40-70% more body heat if they never learned to lift.
To test if muscle fatigue was a factor, a rather macabre experiment was devised. Flamingos are known to sleep on one leg (and most importantly not fall over). It was predicted that on one leg, flamingos were more stable.
Through a morbid puppeteering session, a flamingo cadaver was positioned so it was standing on one leg. It was found it could be stable on one leg without muscle activity. Amazingly the dead flamingo could stand. However, the cadaver could not be positioned stably on two legs – this suggests that greater muscle activity is required to stand on two than one.
It just makes more sense to stand on one leg.
Flamingos are gremlins and/or ballerinas
Another iconic image of a flamingo is its bizarre backwards ‘knees.’ However, the flamingo’s hip and knee are actually hidden up in its body – usually covered by feathers. Contrary to most people’s beliefs, the joint you are seeing is actually its ankle.
This becomes more believable when you look at the skeletal structure. Everything past the ankle is an incredibly long and frankly creepy foot and toe.
This means flamingos spend most of their day on their tiptoes (en point). This may be slightly hard to visualise so let me present a bizarre photo. This baby flamingo hasn’t figured out how to walk properly.
This flamingo chick is actually sitting on its feet. Its long, long feet. Honestly I don’t know why public consciousness hasn’t seen the parallels between them and large footed monsters.
Maybe that’s why the Queen of Hearts was so willing to use them as croquet mallets.