The flamingo’s color

Those who have followed my publications for some time will know that biodiversity and microbiota are recurring themes here… they interest me, so I often end up finding something to share and today is no exception. The truth is that I wanted to paint a flamenco and I found the perfect “excuse”. Do you know where that beautiful pink coloration of the flamingos comes from? 

From the question you can imagine that there is something particular here. That characteristic reddish color is due to the presence of compounds called carotenoids, but flamingos, like other birds, are not capable of producing carotenoids.  

The six species of flamingos, including Phoenicopterus roseus (Greater), P. minor (Lesser), P. chilensis (Chilean), P. jamesi (James), P. andinus (Andean) and P. ruber (American), inhabit lakes and estuaries with shallow and salty waters. In these hypersaline environments, flamingos find their food. Microorganisms, such as cyanobacteria and archaea, are especially adapted to these conditions, and they also are capable of producing carotenoids. It is interesting to note that the coloring of the plumage is important for communication between these birds, in key biological functions such as reproduction. It has been described, at least for certain species, that there is a correlation between the coloration of their plumage and their reproductive success, so maintaining the balance in these ecosystems is essential for the preservation of these species.  

This is another beautiful example of the interaction between microbial biodiversity and more complex organisms. More importantly, we must not only protect and care for flagship species, we must also ensure the preservation of their natural habitats, with all the species that cohabit them. 


doi: 10.1038/srep16425