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No. 78: Nov-Dec 1991

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Why do flamingos stand on one leg?

This profound question elicited a wide range of replies from readers of New Scientist, some of which are worth recording here.

W. Smith supposed that because the flamingo has exceptionally long, thin legs that it was difficult for its heart to return blood from its feet. Therefore, by standing on one leg and occasionally switching, the flamingo prevents blood from collecting in its feet.

L.J. Los replied with reference to a phenomenon of which we were unaware:

"Farm animals are well known for letting sleep be linked to half of their brain at a time. In this way they can maintain a measure of alertness -- even while looking fast asleep.

"Flamingos roost upon one of their legs while the other half of their body is in the sleep stage. When the other half of their brain and body earns a rest, they change legs. A leg that is in the sleep stage would not support the bird as a whole."

But P. Hardy had the best answer:

"Why do flamingos stand on one leg? So ducks only bump into them half the time."

(Various authors; "Flamingo File," New Scientist, p. 52, August 17, 1991.)

From Science Frontiers #78, NOV-DEC 1991. 1991-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:

Quotes

  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987