Sea-Monkeys Turn You Pink

I recently went on a trip to San Diego where one of my main stops was the San Diego Zoo.  I was in awe of all the species housed in that amazing facility, particularly the flamingos.  While staring at them and holding my nose, as is quite necessary, if you’ve never been, a question and answer session from my childhood popped into my mind. 

Why are flamingos pink if they are born grey?  Excellent question!  Flamingos are filter feeders that exist on a mainly blue-green algae and/or brine shrimp diet.  What are brine shrimp, you ask?  You may know them by their more common name, sea monkeys.  Because sea monkeys contain relatively large amounts of beta-carotene, the flamingos’ familiar pink color evolves over time as they eat.

It seems strange that an animal’s diet can alter their coloration so drastically from the natural state, though flamingos are not the only creature that changes color because of their choice of meal! 

Consider the carrot, a wonderful source of beta-carotene.  If you were to eat large quantities of carrots everyday, for every meal and every snack, eventually you would end up tinted orange.  That’s right!  If you worry obsessively about your vision and overdo the carrots, you could end up looking like you belong in the factory singing anecdotal-lessons with the rest of the Oompa Loompas.  This unfortunate condition is called Carotenosis, and is, luckily, rarely fatal.

With all of this newfound colorful information in hand, I hope you take note of the fascinating natural world, choose your snacks wisely and, remember, everything in moderation.

The Incredible Journey of the Monarchs – on PBS

She Was Completely Transparent With Me
Creative Commons License photo credit: Randy Son Of Robert

What do you know about monarch butterflies?

A universal favorite, most people know that these showy orange and black butterflies fly south every year to spend the winter in Mexico. Many of you may have raised their black, yellow, and white caterpillars on Mexican milkweed as a class project or in your backyard.

But why do the adult butterflies migrate, and how do they get there and back? Who are the people and cultures they encounter as they traverse the continent from north to south each year? How did we learn about their migration, and what does it tell us about the natural world?

Migration
Creative Commons License photo credit: tlindenbaum

To answer these questions, and to see some amazing footage of millions of butterflies in flight and at their overwintering grounds, be sure to watch NOVA’s long-awaited special, “The Incredible Journey of the Monarchs.” It airs on PBS tomorrow night (Tuesday, January 27) at 7 p.m.

Inspired by Sue Halpern’s book, “Four Wings and a Prayer,” the filmmaker followed the butterflies in hot air balloons and high tech gliders, interviewing researchers and ordinary citizens in Canada, the USA, and Mexico to tell the story of these unusual butterflies and the unique phenomenon of their migration.

You can catch a quick preview of the show, learn about filmmaker Nick de Pencier, or see a list of monarch links and books at the NOVA website.

According to our friends in the monarch-watching business (see www.monarchwatch.org) this film is “the best program ever done on monarch butterflies.” Don’t miss it!

Again, it airs in Houston on PBS (Channel 8) on Tuesday, January 27 at 7 p.m.