Written by Matt Walker - Editor, Earth News
It is one of the simplest, but most enigmatic mysteries of nature. So, just why do flamingoes like to stand on one leg?
Now after conducting an exhaustive study of captive Caribbean flamingoes, two scientists believe they finally have the answer.
Flamingoes stand on one leg to regulate their body temperature!
Matthew Anderson and Sarah Williams are comparative psychologists based at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, US who are interested in the studying the evolution of behaviour, and had this to say on the matter:
'Flamingoes captured my attention for a variety of reasons. Scientifically speaking, their highly gregarious nature makes them an ideal species for investigating social influences on behaviour. Perhaps most importantly, we were very surprised to discover how little systematic, hypothesis-driven empirical research had been conducted on flamingoes.'Lateral thinking
Anderson and Williams's research began by studying laterality in flamingoes: whether they show any preference over which side of their bodies they use for various tasks, just as a human may be right or left-handed.
That led the researchers to investigate whether flamingoes also prefer to stand on one leg more than the other, and from there, why they stand on one leg at all, empirically testing the question for the first time.
To investigate, Anderson and Williams spent several months observing the habits of captive Caribbean flamingoes (Phoenicopterus ruber) at Philadelphia Zoo, Pennsylvania, each of which carries a leg band that allows individuals to be identified.
Both are commonly proposed as reasons for unipedal resting in flamingoes.
The scientists ruled out each as a benefit of standing on one leg, as their research showed it took flamingoes longer, and therefore more energy, to move forward after resting on one leg than after resting on two. The birds also showed no preference for which leg they stood on.
Nor did standing on one leg help the birds balance when conditions were windy, another proposed idea.
'As water invariably draws away more body heat, this result supports the thermoregulation hypothesis. In short, the birds stand on one leg to conserve body heat. If they put two legs in the water, rather than one, they would lose more heat than is healthy, particularly as they spend so much time wading. The results provide definitive evidence that thermoregulation is a principal function of unipedal resting in flamingoes. The birds also likely alternate which leg they stand on to avoid one leg becoming too cold. If they stood on one leg consistently, they would risk greater loss of body heat and potential tissue damage in the cold.'
But they don't eliminate the idea that there may be added benefits as well as conserving body heat.
'Given the wading lifestyle of flamingoes, perhaps unipedal resting helps reduce fungal or parasite load as well," says Anderson. Others birds, such as herons, storks, ducks and many others also often stand on a single leg in water, perhaps for the same reasons as flamingoes. But as flamingoes tend to spend much longer filter feeding in water than these other birds, this remains speculation.'For related articles click onto:
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Based on an article from http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8197000/8197932.stm
Images care of http://www.answers.com/T/Flamingos and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Caribbean_flamingo.jpg and http://photo.wwt.org.uk/gallery/gallery/winter-2011/winners/ and http://thereadingcorner-sere.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/capitombolo-colossale.html