How Flamingos survive in Lake Natron is a special gift of nature. Lake Natron is a unique ecosystem that challenges the limits of life. It is located in the North-East section of the volatile East African Rift of Tanzania. The country has no less than four alkaline lakes, but Lake Natron is the most famous. Amidst the harsh conditions of this alkaline and hypersaline lake, one of nature’s most iconic and vibrant creatures, the flamingo, not only survives but thrives. The lake experienced severe heat evaporation for thousands of years due to its lack of outflow and erratic rainfall. This concentrated the natron (hydrated sodium carbonate) and trona (sodium sesquicarbonate dihydrate) in the remaining water, resulting in a brine that is extremely poisonous. Its pH is higher than 12, its alkalinity is 10.5, and its water temperature varies from 40˚ to 60˚C. Bacteria are the cause of Lake Natron’s red colour. Because of the salinity of the lake, cyanobacteria—halophilic microorganisms that require photosynthesis to survive—were able to thrive in a salt-consuming environment. Cyanobacteria typically have distinct colours. Their pigment gives the water of Lake Natron a vivid crimson colour. A few fish, invertebrate, and algae species are able to survive in the lake for unknown reasons. In the lake’s colder regions, certain alkaline tilapia, which belong to the cichlid family, can live. However, Lake Natron can be a death trap for certain wildlife, particularly birds. Its reflective surface deceives them into thinking it is food. Both the outside and the inside of them calcify as they drown in the poisonous elixir. But flamingos have settled into Lake Natron without any problems at all. Here, about 2.5 million Lesser Flamingos, which are endangered, breed. The birthplace of 75% of the world’s inhabitants is its coastline.
What make Flamingos survive in Lake Natron
Listed below are the important features that make flamingos survive in Lake Natron.
Resilient Feathers, Scales and Skin
Lake Natron’s alkaline waters, with a high pH level as mentioned above, would be fatal to most organisms. However, flamingos possess specialized feathers that act as a natural defense mechanism. Their feathers are coated in a waxy substance that protects them from the corrosive nature of the lake, allowing them to navigate its waters without harm. They have special tough skin and scales on their legs to prevent burns, and they can drink water at near boiling point to collect freshwater from springs and geysers at lake edges. If no freshwater is available, flamingos can use glands in their head to remove salt and drain it out from their nasal cavity.
Strategic Nesting Sites
Flamingos are selective in choosing their nesting sites, and Lake Natron provides an ideal location. The alkaline mud flats surrounding the lake offer a secure environment for nesting, as they harden and protect the eggs from predators. Additionally, the remote location minimizes human disturbance, providing a tranquil haven for the flamingo families. Also, Mass synchronized nesting gives flamingos the best possible chance to raise the maximum number of chicks.
Adapted Diet is key to Flamingos survival in Lake Natron
The unique ecosystem of Lake Natron also influences the flamingos’ diet. The lake is home to an abundance of cyanobacteria, which thrive in high alkalinity. They actually feed on cyanobacteria, known as spirulina within the lake which gives the lake its pinkish colour. They use their specialized bills to filter the water and extract the nutrients they need. Flamingos also feed on algae. This unique diet contributes to the flamingos’ vibrant pink coloration. They filter out the salt through the glands in the head and can deal with the scalding waters. Up to 3 million Lesser Flamingos assemble there annually because the absence of predators and a food source create the ideal conditions for flamingos to thrive.
Flamingos are social birds, and their group behaviour serves as another key survival strategy in Lake Natron. By flocking together, they can collectively search for food and protect themselves from potential predators such as hyenas or jackals. The power of numbers helps ensure the safety and well-being of the entire flamingo community. They normally keep to the cooler areas but can wade into the hot part when necessary. If the lake is turbulent, the massive number of flamingos swimming together also helps create the optimal feeding environment as still water is usually formed within the center of the group.
Lake Natron is not a year-round residence for flamingos. These birds are known for their impressive migration patterns, moving between various alkaline lakes in East Africa. This migration allows them to adapt to changing environmental conditions and access the resources they need for survival, showcasing their ability to thrive in diverse landscapes.