Sunday, March 20, 2011

A flamingo fell down

Why is this cabinet-worthy? Well, other than the fact that this marvelous photo - taken by Tatiana Adamenko on a visit to the Moscow Zoo - makes you do a double-take, flamingos are known for their ability to stand on one leg for hours at a time. As you may surmise, a bird's tail is largely responsible for keeping its balance, specifically the feathers known as retrices, which the U.K.'s Flamingo Resource Centre offers helpful advice about measuring in living birds. But as biologists Fritz Hertel and Kenneth E. Campbell, Jr., determined in 2007, the hips of birds are also especially designed to aid in balance:
"The antitrochanter is a uniquely avian osteological feature of the pelvis that is located lateral to the postero-dorsal rim of the acetabulum. This feature makes the avian hip joint unique among all vertebrates, living and fossil, in that a significant portion of the femoral pelvic articulation is located outside of the acetabulum....The avian antitrochanter is a derived feature of birds that evolved as an aid in maintaining balance during bipedal terrestrial locomotion."
Posture expert Lena Ting and locomotion expert Young-Hui Chang are studying the balancing abilities of flamingos at Georgia Tech's Center for Biologically Inspired Design in hopes of developing better human prosthetics or physical therapy. "The flamingo's ability to balance on one leg for long periods represents the extreme in balance control. It's a good model to study," says Chang. The Internet journal MedGadget points out, "Odd that the animals adorning kooky old ladies' lawns might hold the key to better hip replacements for the very same..."

Strolling through the shallow pool in his enclosure, the bird in the photo lost its footing when it dipped his head underwater. It took a tumble, thrashed about wildly trying to regain its equilibrium, finally stood back up after somersaulting several times, and then "casually swam away like nothing had happened."

Pretend you never saw this...

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