The Flaming Flamingo
The flaming flamingo, Phoenicopterus flammae, is one of the five members of the family Phoenicopteridae. It is, however, the only one of these to feed on land, and not in the shallow waters in which the other members of its genus find their sustenance. The flaming flamingos, unlike their cousins, do not filter water for small crustaceans or algae, but rather, they filter the air.
Found mostly in Africa, and some remote parts of the middle east, flaming flamingos usually aggregate near stale water, where air-born insects are in abundance. They then swing their long neck back and forth through the air, while keeping their beak open, to capture the mosquitoes and other bugs that serve as their main diet.
Just as with other flamingo species, the color of their plumage depends on their diet. Flaming flamingos can vary from rainbow-colored to dull gray, depending on the insects that dominate their local ecosystem. Their name, however, has another origin.
Always on the lookout for richer food-patches, flaming flamingos are invariably attracted by light, just as their prey is. When man started to domesticate fire, this proved to be a rather unfortunate trait. The large movements they make while capturing their prey meant that they almost always came too close to when they were attracted by a man-made flame, and would often catch fire. This has provoked a dramatic reduction in numbers of their population, and today, the flaming flamingo only occupies a fraction of its former range.
The spectacle of a burning flaming flamingo thrashing around screaming seemed to be both terrifying and fascinating to the ancient tribes of Africa, for they have attributed a special place to the bird in their mythology. The flaming flamingo is said to be the god of fire, and whenever he would choose to burst into flames in a village, it meant that either a great boon or great tragedy would descend upon its people. Even today, the animals are seen as sacred, although the advent of electrical lightning has greatly reduced the number of fire-related casualties.
Recently, the bird has been re-introduced in a number of countries in west Africa, in the hopes that this voracious insectivore would curb mosquito populations and diminish the risk of malaria. Whether or not this operation was a success remains to be determined, but early analysis shows promising results.
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