How do flamingos stand on one leg? Now we know, according to reports in Science (AAAS) News 23 May 2017, BBC News 24 May 2017, National Geographic 27 May 2017 and Biology Letters, doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0948, 24 May 2017.

Flamingos are large birds with narrow spindly legs, but they often stand quietly for long periods and even sleep standing on one leg. Two US scientists, Lena Ting of Emory University, Young-Hui Chang of Georgia Institute of Technology, were dissecting a dead flamingo that had died in a zoo, to look for a built-in structure that would enable this. According to National Geographic, “During the first dissection, they found no trace of locking joints, the discovery of the mechanism came after Chang picked the bird up by its leg and the body remained upright.”

Further experiments with dead birds showed that a dead flamingo could stand stably on one leg, but fell over if the scientists tried to stand it on two legs. Chang commented: “If a dead flamingo could do it, then it is probably available for live birds to do.”

The researchers followed this up by getting live flamingos to stand on a force plate, a sophisticated weighing platform that enables scientists to measure how much muscle movement the bird needs to stay in one place. They found the birds could maintain the one-legged stance with “little active muscular force”.

Ting and Chang describe the mechanism for doing this as a “passive gravitational stay mechanism”. Chang explained to the BBC: “If you look at the bird from the front, while they’re standing on one leg, the foot is directly beneath the body which means that their leg is angled inward. That’s the pose you have to strike in order to engage the stay mechanism.” The researchers call the mechanism a “stay” rather than a “lock” because “A lock would imply that it’s fixed in both directions. What we found is that it’s fixed in one direction, but flexible in the other direction, so we call it a ‘stay’ rather than a ‘lock’. It’s more akin to a doorstop.”

BBC, National Geographic, Science

Editorial Comment: Do you remember the old joke: ‘What must a flamingo do to stand on one leg? Answer: Take the other one off the ground’. Seems it is true after all. But why would any evolving flamingo take one leg off the ground and go to sleep if it wasn’t already sure it wouldn’t fall flat on its face?

A real problem for all who believe flamingos evolved one step at a time, but no problem for the Creator who designed and made the bird as a fully functioning creature from the very beginning.

But there’s more: This apparently awkward behaviour does have at least one useful function. Previous research has indicated this behaviour also enables the birds to conserve heat, since long skinny legs in water cool down real fast, but let’s face it, both the mechanism to enable a one legged stance, which at the same time conserves heat, had to be built in before the bird face planted in the mud and never did it again. At which point we should all say: Impressive God, thanks!

Evidence News vol. 17, No. 1
0 8 June 2017
Creation Research Australia

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