Flamingos are one of the most iconic creatures in the animal kingdom, easily identified by their bright pink plumage. However when Flamingos were first brought to zoos from the wild, the keepers were dismayed to find they lost their bright pink colour and turned a grey/white shade.
It turns out the secret to the flamingo’s pink feathers comes from their diet. In the wild flamingos eat algae and invertebrates that contain things called carotenoids. Carotenoids contain pigments which dissolve in the flamingos fats and are then deposited in the growing feathers of the flamingo giving them their colour. If this is removed from the diet of the flamingo then the colour will be lost and feathers come through as their natural grey colour.
Flamingos vary in colour depending on the amount of pigment in their diet, they can vary from a pale pink to crimson. In captivity flamingos are fed pellets which contain the pigment that is found in their natural diet in the wild in order to keep their pink colour. Carotenoids can be found in many common fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, oranges and carrots which gives them their distinctive colours.
Can humans turn pink?
Unfortunately humans do not turn pink from eating the same diet the flamingos do, humans lack the metabolic mechanism used to convert into a pigment and deposit in the hair.
However there have been instances of people’s skin turning strange colours after consuming carotenoids, for example in 1999 a child turned yellow from drinking too much Sunny Delight! The same thing can occur from excessive consumption of carrots, sweet potato or squash, the condition is called carotenemia.