Photo Gallery: Ridiculously Good Photography of LIFE in All Its Glory

By Eliza Strickland | March 26, 2010 8:05 am

Survival in the Alkaline Cauldrons


For the lesser flamingos that live in Africa’s Great Rift Valley, the region’s caustic alkaline pools are a tasty delight. Where regular folks see a hot cauldron of alkaline mineral salts, the pink-tinged birds see a delicious pea-green soup full of nutritious spirulina—a blue-green algae. To get to the algae however, the flamingos have to filter the water.

This is where the 10,000 thin, sieving plates in the flamingo’s highly evolved bill come into play. The birds first stir the water with their feet and then sway their heads to and fro in the water, using their tongues as pistons to filter 35 pints of water a day through the sieves. At the end of the day, a bird might have gathered two tasty ounces of nutrient-rich spirulina.

When the feeding conditions are good, the birds set out to look for a mate and launch into an elaborately choreographed spectacle worthy of Broadway. With their wing flashes, head flicks, beak nibbles, neck moves, and very distinctive vocalizations, the seething mass of birds acts like a marching band–stepping in time, splitting, reuniting, and changing direction—in a mysterious display that ultimately results in pair bonding and mating.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Photo Gallery
  • Dennis

    How someone manages to snap a photo like this blows my mind!
    The depth of field is razor thin, the critter is in motion (most likely quite rapid motion), running straight at the camera and yet the eyes are in perfect, tack-sharp focus!
    I’m a beginner, aspiring wildlife photographer, and for me, achieving this even with a stationary subject can be a challenge.

    edit: this comment refers to the first photo, of the elephant shrew.

  • Tom

    These are simply amazing pictures. What a world to live in!

  • Richard D. Stacy

    “80beats” is an amazingly wonderful website.

  • nick

    WOW that komodo dragon has some truly epic drool going on.

    re: Dennis: my guess would be a high speed camera tripped when the shrew is heading in, then hundreds of frame gathered in the few seconds it takes to pass, ensuring that it will be in focus when passing through the shallow depth of field required to take such high speed shots with no flash. (shallow depth of field = larger aperture = more light let in at once)

    The flamingos sound like they throw a rave to hook up with their mates.

  • Daniel J. Andrews

    The Trials of Life (Sir David Attenborough) has the elephant shrew careening along runways in episode 5, Finding the Way, around minute 12. They too have low angle cameras and excellent footage of the little critter.

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