Tech Study Stands Up for Flamingos’ Unique Pose

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Tech Study Stands Up for Flamingos’ Unique Pose

The big pink birds stand, sleep on one leg to relax, Tech research suggests

May 24, 2017
• Atlanta, GA

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When it comes to Big Questions About Birds, here’s one that rivals those about chickens crossing roads and that whole chicken-and-egg quandary: Why do flamingos stand on one leg?

“Anytime I go to the zoo, I always hear a kid ask why or how they do that,” says Young-Hui Chang, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences who studies locomotion in animals from both a neurological and a biomechanical lens. “It’s a natural question.”

Because science has yet to provide a definitive answer, Chang and fellow researcher Lena Ting investigated how flamingos are able to stand and sleep on one leg so easily for so long. Ting is a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Emory University and Georgia Tech who studies balance control in humans and mammals.

Their findings, published this week in Biology Letters, suggest a reason that differs from most previous suggestions: it’s about reducing muscular effort.

Potential applications stretch from better robotics, orthopedic braces, and artificial limbs, to more focused treatments for neurological or balance problems.

But Chang argues that simply providing clarity to long-standing questions about long-standing flamingos has great value as well.

“There’s something to be said for just scientific curiosity and learning how nature works,” he says. Flamingos aren’t the only birds that stand on one leg, he adds, but “the extreme example is the flamingo. It’s precisely from these extreme examples in nature where you can really gain a lot of insight.”

A firmer foundation for flamingos

Surprisingly, Chang says, given how long the question about flamingos has been around, “there hasn’t been a whole lot of …

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