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Zoos feed flamingoes shrimp and carrots as part of their diet to keep them pink while in captivity


©Chi Liu

There are six different species of flamingo, found in locations ranging from the Caribbean and South America to Africa, India, and the Mediterranean and they range in color from light pink to nearly crimson.

Flamingo feathers obtain their wonderful rosy pink color from pigments in the organisms they eat. The flamingos’ feathers, legs, and face are colored by their diet, which is rich in alpha and beta carotenoid pigments.

Carotenoids in crustaceans, or Spirulina that make up the flamingo diet are frequently linked to protein molecules, and may be blue or green. After being digested, the carotenoid pigments dissolve in fats and are deposited in the growing feathers, becoming orange or pink. The same effect is seen when shrimp change color during cooking. The amount of pigment laid down in the feathers depends on the quantity of pigment in the flamingo’s diet. An absence of carotenoids in its food will result in new feather growth that is very pale; the existing pigment is lost through molting.

Spirulina, a blue-green algae abundant in the waters of Lake Natron, makes up lesser flamingoes’ entire diet. Although called blue-green, this particular algae provides the red pigment for flamingoes’ feathers. Lesser flamingoes, who survive solely on Spirulina, have a more intense pink color than greater flamingoes, who get their lighter color second-hand from their prey, creatures who have themselves digested the organism.


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