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Pedros Szekely

15 Fascinating Flamingo Facts

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Pedros Szekely

Photograph by Pedros Szekely.

Flamingos are a familiar sight even to those who have never seen one in real life. The tropical wading birds have long legs with backward-bending knees, long curvy necks, and most noticeably, they are pink. We can admire flamingos or laugh at them (and often both), so we may as well learn something about them.

1. There are six distinct species of flamingo, but it takes a trained eye to distinguish them.

Photograph by Charles J Sharp.

2. Adult flamingos are four to five feet tall, but only weigh between four and eight pounds. That’s the kind of astonishing body density (or lack of) needed for flight.

Photograph by Adam Baker.

3. Flamingos tend to congregate in mudflats or lagoons, where they can find shallow saltwater prey. These habitats are also difficult for predators to negotiate.

Photograph by Valerio Pillar.

4. Flamingos feed by stirring up mud with their feet. Then they reach down and scoop up a beakful of mud and water. Their beaks are designed to strain animals out of the mud, and the muddy water is expelled. This happens as the flamingo’s head is upside-down.

5. The American flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) is the only flamingo species native to North America, but is rarely seen in the United States anymore. It is generally more brightly colored than the Greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) that inhabits the coasts of Africa, Asia, and southern Europe. Although the Greater flamingo is the most widespread species, the most numerous is the Lesser flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor).

Photograph by Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski. 

6. The color pink comes from beta-carotene in the crustaceans and plankton that flamingos eat. Zoo flamingos will turn white if their diet is not supplemented with live shrimp or flamingo chow containing carotenoid pigments.

Photograph by Jerry Friedman.

7. The feathers under their wings (flight feathers) are black. You only see them when the birds are flying.

8. Flamingos flock in groups of up to several hundred birds. They often perform their mating displays together, like this flamingo flamenco. However, different species and even different flocks will put a slightly different spin on their communal rituals. Read about some of the individual mating dance moves

9. The male and female of a mating pair build a nest together, and both sit on the egg while it incubates for about a month.

10. Some flamingos find it easier to steal a nest that’s already been built, so mating pairs must guard a nest from other flamingos as well as predators.

Photograph by Martin Pettitt.

11. When a flamingo chick hatches, both parents take turns feeding it: first with a special liquid baby food they produce in their throats called crop milk, then with regurgitated regular flamingo food as the chick ages.

Photograph by Flickr user Linda Tanner.

12. Flamingo chicks are born with grey and white feathers. They do not turn pink for a year or two. Their beaks are straight, and begin to curve as they grow and mature.

13. A variety of land predators will eat flamingos and their eggs, but since their nests are built on swampland or mudflats, the most common predators for flamingos are other birds.

Photograph by Dario Niz.

14. Flamingos are not endangered; they are classified as “least concern” as their numbers are fairly stable. Whether they stay stable will depend on what happens to their habitats and breeding grounds in the future. There is one related species that is declining, however…

Photograph by Flickr user Kim Kruse.

15. Plastic lawn flamingos (Phoenicopterus plasticus) are an American cultural icon that was introduced in 1957 by artist Don Featherstone. In the 21st century, they are considered endangered. Efforts are underway to revive the art form, and in 2009, Madison, Wisconsin, named the plastic pink flamingo the city’s official bird.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages

Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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