You Are What You Eat: Why the Flamingo is Pink

People often say “You are what you eat.” What does this phrase mean? It means that the food you eat makes a difference to your health. The phrase began in 1826 when French lawyer Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote it, but it became more popular in America from 1923 when it appeared in the Bridgeport Telegraph newspaper.

The phrase is generally not used for animals. However, for the Flamingo it is true, and that is why the Flamingo is pink.

The Flamingo has orange-pink feathers. The orange-pink colour comes from the food it eats. 

The orange-pink colour of Flamingos comes from the beta-carotene found in the crustacean and plankton diet that they feed on. Crustaceans are shrimp, crabs, and lobsters, which are orange-pink. The more crustaceans a Flamingo eats, the deeper pink it becomes.

Beta-carotene is an orange-pink pigment (dye) found in fungi, plants, fruit, and vegetables, but also in crustaceans. 

The most well-known food, that humans eat, that contains beta-carotene is the carrot. Beta-carotene is also high in sweet potatoes and pumpkin, and in green food, such as leafy green vegetables. 

Carrots are good for humans in moderation, but not too many carrots because people need a variety of foods. Chu Hsiao from the University of Florida in America, who studies food, genetics, and diseases, says that people should have a balanced diet from a range of fruit and vegetables.  

Location of photographs: Kenya, and Paris Zoo, France

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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