Ever wondered why flamingos seem to frequently stand on just one leg instead of both?
This one-legged balancing act has been the signature pose of these large, vibrantly-colored birds. If we humans try to imitate it, though, we know that we're in for a world of painfully cramped legs. We'd probably tip right over after a few seconds, too. So how—and why—do these birds frequently balance their large bodies on one spindly leg?
The answer to the question why is surprising. Researchers have found that flamingos stand on one leg to save energy. This, of course, may be surprising given that balancing on one leg, as thin as a flamingo leg is, seems to be a lot of work. For these birds, however, the stance actually requires less energy.
When a flamingo is in a unipedal—one-legged—stance, it doesn't use its muscles as much as it does when it stands on two legs. Thus, it conserves more energy. In fact, the researchers conducted an experiment testing how much effort it takes to keep a flamingo standing on one leg. The researchers ran the experiment on both dead and live birds. To their surprise, even the dead ones can stand on one leg with no support at all.
Even more intriguing is that dead birds cannot stand on two legs without support, but they can on one leg. Live birds, meanwhile, can stand on one leg completely immobile, which indicates that the stance is quite stable. Researchers note that the birds sway a little only when they do other things while also standing on one leg.
That, therefore, is why flamingos stand on one leg. However, how do they do it with such ease?
According to the study, the birds owe this to a phenomenon that the researchers call "passive gravitational stay mechanism". The researchers also note that a flamingo angles its leg inward to keep its balance on one leg.
However, researchers still do not yet fully understand how a flamingo's anatomy enables this one-legged stance. The next phase of their research would focus on discovering the anatomical mechanisms behind this.
Other scientists say that this research is a “step forward” in learning more about the flamingo. However, there are more dimensions to the matter that are ripe for exploration. Dr. Matthew Anderson, who specializes in animal behavior and was not involved in the study, adds a couple of other questions. Other than why and how, Dr. Anderson suggests that the researchers should have also looked into when and where. He claims that knowing the when and where of flamingos standing on one leg will fully answer the why.
Dr. Anderson has his own study that addresses the when and where. According to this study, there is a correlation between rising temperatures and the rising number of flamingos standing on one leg.
Whatever the case, though, what we know now is that the one-legged stance seems to be one of rest. Surprising as it sounds, a seemingly uncomfortable pose is one that indicates repose—for flamingos, at least.
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