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Flamingo Makeup

November 9, 2010

Just being pink isn’t good enough for a flamingo. A new study reveals that they apply makeup to their feathers to stand out even more.


Flamingo makeup…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

White flamingos? The idea may sound absurd, but according to behavioral ecologist Juan Amat, if it weren’t for pigments in the tiny crustaceans they eat, the birds would lack their signature pink feathers. Now, Amat and his colleagues at the Spanish Scientific Research Council have discovered that flamingos make themselves even more colorful by applying additional pigments from a special gland near their tail.

And this pigment they use as makeup. By rubbing the cheeks on the neck and the upper part of the back, they distribute the pigment on the feathers.

He says gaudy plumage is important for attracting a mate, and the flamingos probably use the makeup to make themselves more alluring. But once they’ve found a partner and have laid an egg, they stop showing off.

Flamingos lose the color immediately after the chick hatch.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.