Why flamingos stand on one leg decoded —

Greater flamingo   (pix SShukla)

Greater flamingo (pix SShukla)

Flamingos are well-known for standing on one leg – but, until now, no-one has been entirely sure why they do it.

One theory was that they did it to help regulate their temperature, as putting both down when stood in water would draw away more body heat.

However, researchers now believe they have found an alternative answer. According to a new study published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, it actually requires less effort for a flamingo to stand on one leg than it does on two.

Professor Young-Hui Chang from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Lena H Ting of Emory University conducted a series of experiments using the bodies of dead flamingos – and found it was easier to stand them up on one leg rather than two.

“We demonstrated that flamingo cadavers could passively support body weight on one leg without any muscle activity while adopting a stable, unchanging, joint posture resembling that seen in live flamingos,” they wrote.

“By contrast, the cadaveric flamingo could not be stably held in a two-legged pose, suggesting a greater necessity for active muscle force to stabilize two-legged versus one-legged postures.

“Our results suggest that flamingos engage a passively engaged gravitational stay apparatus (proximally located) for weight support during one-legged standing.” 

They also discovered that live flamingos standing on one leg have “markedly reduced body sway during quiescent versus alert behaviours, with the point of force application directly under the distal joint, reducing the need for muscular joint torque.

“Taken together, our results highlight the possibility that flamingos stand for long durations on one leg without exacting high muscular forces and, thus, with little energetic expenditure.

“While we lack direct evidence, reduced energy expenditure could more generally explain how many birds with varied morphologies and ecological niches can benefit from this uniquely avian behaviour.” (The Telegraph)

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