Dear biologist!

I've just been watching the telly... (always a dangerous start...)

First of all, I wasn't quite sure how to spell the plural of flamingo, hence the title fo this thread....

More importantly, (OK it's not that important,) why are the 'knees' of a flamingo (yeah, not knowing the plural is a nuisance) 'backwards'?  What is the evolutionary advantage?  As a non-biologist, I'm wondering quite what's going on. 

Maybe, in evolutionary terms, it's just that ankles have become knees... (you can tell I'm not a biologist!)  Elephants (uniquely?) have 4 'knees', but horses don't.  What's that all about?

If I were a flamingo, would 'reverse' knees not be a disadvantage?  Wouldn't I trip over them?   Speaking as a human, I'd find 'reverse knees' a real inconvenience... (unless you know otherwise...)

On reflection, this applies to other birds too, but anyway, I'd be very interested in your comments.

I hope you can tell this is not a kiddie's homework!

They'd probably know more than I do...

Thanks very much!

I think you hit on the solution yourself: the joint you call a knee is actually an ankle. Flamingos (or flamingoes, I think both are correct) and other birds do have knees but because they have short femurs, the knee is relatively close to the body. The same is true for horses and many other tetrapods. The reason for this arrangement is that it is probably an adaptation for fast running. Elephants don't have four knees; like us, they have two knees and two elbows. The front legs of horses don't have knees either; they have joints on their front legs that looks like knees, but those are, of course, wrists.

Last edited by Brent Richards (12th Jan 2011 20:32:10)

This photo on my blog shows this off. Here's a flamingo standing on it's feet in the way a human would (on the flat of the foot and the toes). It does look really odd, but anatomcially, it's the same thing. … in-repose/