Neuromechanics of flamingos’ amazing feats of balance
If you saw the flames in the zoo – or if you’re lucky, in nature – you’ve asked how the flames manage to sleep standing on one leg.
Of course, as humans, we believe that maintaining a leg is difficult because it is difficult for us. The posture of the tree in yoga is becoming more difficult as you lift your leg up, place your arms and tilt your head. It becomes almost impossible if you close your eyes. Most of us turn around and swing and pose a foot on the floor, and shake the leg we were in.
As scientists, each of us is interested in how the brain controls the body – an area we call neo-mechanics, at the intersection of biomechanics and neuroscience. Our last research question: how do flamingos stand on stage? Our research took us close and personal with a flock of flamingos and even juvenile skeletons and flaming corpses to find out how they arrive at their amazing feats of balance.
Passive or active stabilization?
When we searched the literature, we found no reports on how these iconic birds did, but there were several theories as to why they were standing.
Some people thought it was to retain body heat lost by the foot in cold water. Standing on a single leg, it is likely to reduce energy being lost in heat by means.
Another hypothesis is that maintaining one leg reduces muscle fatigue by resting one leg while the other supports the body. This theory is based on the idea that we are standing on two legs is more exhausting than standing alternately in one leg and the other, but no one has directly tested this.
Much of an animal’s metabolic energy expenditure is due to the activation of the muscles as they face the movement severity and control. If there was an additional cost of energy to stand on one leg, it would not be logical for the flames to reduce the loss of thermal energy only to lose in the expenditure of muscle energy. And if it was exhausting for the flames to stand out on one leg, why would they spend between one leg and the other again standing on two legs?
When you settle into the grocery store, you do not feel standing with your knees bent – this would require you to spend a tremendous amount of energy to activate the muscles of your leg. Imagine that you have a squatting position with your thighs horizontal and your knee at a right angle – you feel the burn quickly. Flamingo paws (like other birds) are constantly in a state of “bent knees”, so there is the possibility of increased muscle energy expenditure or muscular effort required to support their body weight.
Many animals have developed means of movement that minimize the amount of energy they expend, whether the mechanical pendulum penguins move and the gibbons swinging in the trees or mechanical cockroaches.
Other animals, such as horses, developed passive stabilization mechanisms so that they can remain upright. Bats and birds perched suspended evolved from passive entry mechanisms that allow them to sleep without fear of losing their grip.
We investigated whether the flames depend fundamentally on their biomechanical interventions passive or active nervous system standing on a single leg.
The examination of flamenco living and dead
The way scientists study balance is that people or animals in a device called a force platform that measures the forces that are applied to the ground. It works like a Wii Balance Board board. From these measurements, one can calculate the “postural oscillation” – the constant movement of the body while standing in one, two or even four.