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Why Are Flamingos Pink?

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Flamingoes get their pink or orange color from the carotenoid pigments found in the foods they eat.

Flamingoes get their pink or orange color from the carotenoid pigments found in the foods they eat.

Aaron Logan

Question: Why Are Flamingos Pink?

Have you ever wondered why flamingos are pink or orange? You've probably heard it has something to do with what flamingos eat, but do you know what exactly it is that produces the color?

Answer: Flamingos are pink or orange or white depending on what they eat. Flamingos eat algae and crustaceans that contain pigments called carotenoids. For the most part, these pigments are found in the brine shrimp and blue-green algae that the birds eat. Enzymes in the liver break down the carotenoids into the pink and orange pigment molecules deposited in the feathers, bill, and legs of the flamingos. Flamingos that eat mostly algae are more deeply colored than birds that eat the small animals that feed off of algae. Captive flamingos are feed a special diet that includes prawns (a pigmented crustacean) or additives such as beta-carotene or canthaxanthin, otherwise they would be white or pale pink. Young flamingos have gray plumage that changes color according to their diet.

People eat foods containing carotenoids, too. Examples include beta-carotene in carrots and lycopene in watermelon, but most people do not eat enough of these compounds to affect their skin color.

 

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