Pink Flamingos

Dear M.A.:

I recently heard that flamingos are pink because they eat shrimp as their main diet. But shrimp are only pink after they're cooked. Who cooks shrimp for flamingos? Sounds sketchy to me.

-- Wonderer, San Diego

Of course it's not the shrimp. It's the cocktail sauce. Much more logical, no? Okay, it is the shrimp. And the algae. And the other aquatic goodies the birds filter from the water through those remarkable beaks. No need to sauté the marshy goo to color their feathers though. Flamingos' natural diet is packed with natural carotenoids, coloring agents that produce hues ranging from the scarlet in corals and tomatoes to the yellow in butter. Certain protein-bound carotenoids create the blue-green shades of shrimp and lobster still on the hoof. When heat is applied to shrimp, the protein coagulates and reveals the carotenoid pigment, which makes those fine edibles appear bright pink. Lucky for flamingos, the carotenoids in their diet are changed chemically inside the bird, no frying pan required. And they're fat soluble, so if you peek inside a flamingo, he's as flaming pink inside as he is outside.

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