How Do Flamingos Get Their Color?
Flamingo feathers obtain their wonderful rosy pink color from pigments in the organisms they eat. Baby flamingos are actually born with gray feathers. The distinctive pink color develops because of their selective diet, which primarily consists of organisms — such as shrimp and algae — high in pigments called alpha and beta carotenoids.
These carotenoids are the same pigments that cause shrimp to turn from gray to pink when we boil them! Carotenoids in crustaceans such as those in 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 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.
Though algae may not be at the top of your family’s grocery list, humans also eat foods rich in carotenoids. These pigments are responsible for many of the red, yellow and orange fruits and veggies that find their way to our dinner plates and lunchboxes, including carrots, apricots, squash, mangoes and sweet potatoes.
Thanks to a varied and balanced diet, however, we can enjoy these carotenoid-filled foods without having to worry that our skin will change color overnight.