Many people have heard that it’s an urban myth that flamingos are pink because they eat shrimp. While this is in fact true and not a myth, it isn’t the whole answer – for example, why would a diet of shrimps turn a flamingo pink when shrimps are normally a blue-grey colour? Read on to discover the answer!
In a hurry? Go straight to the short answer
The flamingos distinctive rosy pink colour comes from the food that they eat. Their natural diet usually consists of crustaceans, such as brine shrimp, and blue-green algae. These organisms contain pigments called carotenoids which turn a pink or reddish colour when broken down by the flamingos digestion.
This explains why the flamingo gets its colour from organisms that are not pink themselves. A similar process happens when you cook seafood such as shrimps or lobster – the raw seafood starts off a blue-grey colour, but the heat from the cooking process breaks down the carotenoid, turning them pink.
The intensity of a flamingos colour can vary in the wild due to natural variations in diet – for example, flamingos that have a diet heavy in blue-green algae are much more strongly coloured than those that haven’t.
Flamingos that are kept in zoos often lack the significant amount of the pigment that wild ones have in their diet, so their diet is supplemented with food additives such as canthaxanthin to give them the colour that we have come to expect. We also consume carotenoids in our diets – carrots are particularly rich in them for example – but we lack the required amount to turn our skin bright pink!
Why are flamingos pink? The short answer
Flamingos are pink because of the food they eat. Their diet consists of organisms such as shrimp and blue-green algae, which contain pigments that turn a pink or reddish colour when broken down by the flamingos digestion.