Flamingos are the best pink filters ever – yes, and they get to eat pink stuff!

By July 13, 2016News
Flamingo in The Galapagos Flamingo Galapagos

Yacht La Pinta explores the uniqueness of Floreana Island in its Western Islands itineraryGalapagos Flamingo

When visitors to the Galapagos Islands are in their planning stages to visit this unique location on Earth, they become fascinated, and puzzled too, about finding a representative of the Caribbean right here in this tropical desert. Its name: the Galapagos Flamingo., it develops its color mostly from its diet. Not kidding!

Do flamingos really eat pink stuff then?

Yes they do, but that’s not the only thing they eat. First, let’s talk about their fascinating behavior and world distribution. Flamingos are quite unique because they don’t like any other bird, more so after recent studies have found them genetically and evolutionary related to grebes, and a more cent study (2014) allocates them as non-waterfowl but more related to the birds of the Columbea group (doves, sandgrouses, mesites). Of course, there are two morphological features, besides their pink color, that makes them quite unique: their super long skinny legs and their somewhat bulky and out-of-the-ordinary beak.

Galapagos FlamingoTheir longs legs allow them to efficiently wade along shallow ponds and mud-base places. These legs act almost like stilts, providing extra maneuverability in places with deeper water. Their beaks, though, are quite a contraption. Flamingos feed by filtering the various habitats they live in; they mostly filter-feed on brine shrimp and blue-green algae. Their beaks are adapted to separate silt and mud from what they eat, but what is truly unique is that they do this upside down (we don’t really recommend you try doing this at home). Internally, their beaks have structures similar to the baleen of whales, only that these hairy filaments are called lamellae.

Now we know how they eat, but their plumage color comes after what they eat. Their diet consists of carotenoids (pigments on shrimps) and plankton (plant material). Carotenoid pigments are broken down into readily-active Flamingopigments by liver enzymes present when digestion happens. Depending on the species of flamingo, the intensity of color will vary, but you can see that in captive environments, like zoos, their coloration almost seems artificial and way into orange color instead of a mild/strong pink coloration.

WOW! A pink animal in the Galapagos…is it endemic then?

The species of the Galapagos flamingo you find in the archipelagos is called American flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), and is found along several Caribbean islands, the Caribbean side of Mexico, Belize, and the Galapagos islands. Recent studies suggest that enough geographical isolation does exist in the population found in Galapagos, and so scientists are labelling it as the Galapagos flamingo, already. No more than 400 flamingos are estimated to inhabit the Galapagos. Some older literature talks about this flamingo as the Greater flamingo, but the correct species found in the islands is the American flamingo. Altogether, there are six species of flamingos widely distributed in the World.

Celebrate pink flamingo dayFlamingos have been connected to humans in many different ways (some better than others in fact). For example, Egyptians considered Old World flamingos as the representation of the god Ra, in ancient Rome flamingo tongues were considered a delicacy, the Moche culture of Peru heavily worshiped nature and flamingos have been found in their ceramics, and in some American states plastic flamingos are a trendy item for lawn ornaments. Go figure!

Explorers in the Galapagos are all in for a treat when it comes to spotting flamingos. Various itineraries stop at locations where you can see them. These are: Yacht La Pinta: Western Islands & Northern Islands :: Santa Cruz II: Northern Islands & Western Islands :: Yacht Isabela II: Southern Islands, Central Islands & Northern Islands.

Francisco Dousdebés – Galapagos Expert, July 9th, 2016 – Dragon Hill, Santa Cruz Island 0°52’S / 90°49’W

Francisco Dousdebes

About Francisco Dousdebes

Francisco “Pancho” Dousdebés is an Ecuadorian, born in Quito. Early in life he developed a special interest in natural sciences and a special predilection for the outdoors. After finishing high school in Ecuador, he travelled abroad as an exchange student and landed in the Midwest of the United States. Afterwards, Francisco studied Biology and, in 1986, had a great opportunity land right in his hands: to become a Naturalist Guide for the Galapagos National Park.

Currently, he is the Galápagos Product Manager for Yacht La Pinta, Yacht Isabela II and the Boutique Hotel Casa Gangotena in Quito. He loves to promote the beauty of Ecuador all over the World, and has participated in many Trade Shows, International Forums, and Roadshows together with the Ministry of Tourism and Quito Turismo. He is keen on explaining the role of sustainability in fragile destinations, and also gives lectures on Ecuador’s natural history, natural selection, evolution, and sustainable tourism. Traveling is certainly one of his passions, and whenever he has free time, he has already surely arrived at his next exploration destination.