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Flamingos form long-term friendships and "cliques"
These pink feathered folk form complex social networks and are choosy about who they spend their time with, according to a new study.
- A five-year study conducted by researchers at the University of Exeter shows that flamingos are choosy about who they spend their time with.
- Flamingo friendships are made and maintained long-term due to preference rather than loose, randomly made connections.
- In 2009, Madison, Wisconsin, named the plastic pink flamingo the city's official bird.
New research showing that flamingos form complex social networks and long-lasting friendships could help inform flock conservation efforts.
Flamingos are known to be extremely gregarious animals, with individual birds rolling deep in flocks as large as more than 2 million birds. But a five-year study conducted by researchers at the University of Exeter shows that flamingos are choosy about who they spend their time with, consistently hanging out with specific close friends and snubbing other birds.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
The study, published in Behavioural Processes, examined four captive flamingo species held at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre in the U.K. from 2013 to 2016 and compared the findings to data collected on the flamingos in 2012. Researchers examined flocks of Caribbean, Chilean, Andean, and Lesser flamingos. Behavioral data was collected by photographic records of the birds, which were taken four times per day in the spring and summer and three times per day in the fall and winter.
The researchers found that in every flock, the birds had formed social bonds including mating pairs, same-sex pals and groups of three to four close friends. The preferred acquaintances that were noted in 2012 were still present in 2016.
"We compared birds that were consistently seen together, in close proximity, over time," said Paul Rose, Ph.D., an author of the study, in an email to Big Think. "We repeated our measurements to make sure what we were seeing was not by chance and to be able to build up a picture of who would be most often seen near or with another bird."
According to the research team, the results indicate that flamingo societies are complex, with flamingo friendships made and maintained long-term due to preference rather than loose, randomly made connections.
"There have been several pieces of published research that show non-human animals form social bonds that are important to their health and well-being and to the social [organization] of their group (i.e. keeping it together)," explained Rose. "What we think is interesting about the flamingo work is that this is a gregarious bird that gathers in very large flocks, yet within these large flocks there is an element of social choice. So the flamingos must be aware of who is around them to choose who they want to be associating with."
All of the flamingos in the study were more frequently seen socializing rather than being solitary, though some were especially social, fluttering between groups. The observed flocks varied in size from just over 20 to more than 140, and the findings suggest that the flamingos in the largest flocks displayed the highest occurrence of social interactions
Additionally, the researchers wanted to see what impact foot health had on individual differences in flamingo social behavior. (Captive flamingos are prone to suffer from changes to the plantar surface of the foot.) The foot health scores, as it turned out, did not matter when it came to predicting the friendships in the three of the four studied flamingo flocks. Though, researchers found that the number of connections made between flamingos was significantly influenced by the season.
Improving conservation efforts
It's typical for some animals to invest in social relationships that convey fitness benefits, and those bonds can be long lasting. These new understandings of how the formation of a long-term social bond can be important for a flamingo's quality of life may be utilized to advise animal management and conservation efforts going forward.
"These results are helpful for those working with captive flamingos to consider the number of birds housed so that an array of opportunities for choice of associate and/or breeding partner are available in zoo-housed flocks," the authors write. "Understanding the persistence and strength of social bonds could help inform conservation actions for wild flocks by maintaining suitable habitats for birds to return to year-on-year."
For example, you wouldn't want to split up life-long pals when moving a flock to a new location. In the future, the researchers think that the impact of flock size and environment on flamingo social networks should be further investigated.
More about flamingos
Here are five more fascinating facts about these gregarious feathered folk.
- Male and female flamingo mating pairs build nests together, and both take turns sitting on the egg while it incubates for about a month.
- A flock of flamingos is called a stand or a flamboyance.
- The salmon pink color the flamingo sports comes from beta-carotene in the crustaceans and plankton that they eat. The pinker the flamingo, the better fed he or she is.
- Flamingo chicks are born as a white-grey ball of fuzz. It takes two to three years for them to turn pink. They are also born with straight beaks, which begin to curve once they mature.
- In 2009, Madison, Wisconsin, named the plastic pink flamingo—a reviled kitschy cultural icon introduced in the 50s—the city's official bird.
On the origin of beauty: Darwin's controversial idea about sex
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Answering the question of who you are is not an easy task. Let's unpack what culture, philosophy, and neuroscience have to say.
- Who am I? It's a question that humans have grappled with since the dawn of time, and most of us are no closer to an answer.
- Trying to pin down what makes you you depends on which school of thought you prescribe to. Some argue that the self is an illusion, while others believe that finding one's "true self" is about sincerity and authenticity.
- In this video, author Gish Jen, Harvard professor Michael Puett, psychotherapist Mark Epstein, and neuroscientist Sam Harris discuss three layers of the self, looking through the lens of culture, philosophy, and neuroscience.