Lawrence M. Witmer, PhD
Professor of Anatomy
Chang Professor of Paleontology

Dept. of Biomedical Sciences
Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
Life Science Building, Rm 123
Ohio University
Athens, Ohio 45701 USA

Phone: 740 593 9489
Fax: 740 593 2400



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Vascular Anatomy in Flamingos
2006. Holliday, Ridgely, Balanoff, and Witmer. Anatomical Record

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  Common Language Summary
  New insights into the enigmatic heads of flamingos. Flamingos are known for their peculiar feeding behavior in which they hold their beaks almost upside down as they filter food from shallow lakes. A new CT scanning technique that highlights blood vessel anatomy allowed discovery of a large vascular device called a “paralingual sinus” associated with the tongue and floor of the mouth in Caribbean flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber). Bony evidence suggests that paralingual sinuses are present in other species of flamingos as well but absent in other birds, suggesting that the sinuses function in connection with the peculiar filter-feeding style of flamingos. Flamingos filter small food items from water using rapid, piston-like movements of the tongue. The paralingual sinuses are composed of erectile tissue and when engorged with blood would add structural stiffness to the tongue and floor of the mouth, potentially improving mechanical efficiency. In addition to these vascular devices, arteries and veins of the eye socket, brain, and face were also illustrated using this new 3D vascular imaging technology.

News Release from Ohio University

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Complete citation and full-text download (PDF):
Holliday, Casey M., Ryan C. Ridgely, Amy M. Balanoff, and Lawrence M. Witmer. 2006. Cephalic vascular anatomy in flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) based on novel vascular injection and computed tomographic imaging analyses. Anatomical Record 288A(10):1031–1041.

Larger versions of Figures 1A-B, 1C-F, and 2 from the original article.

Larger versions of Figures 3, 4, and 5 from the original article.

Larger versions of Figures 6 and 7 from the original article.

Many associated movies and images are available on

Brevard Zoo, Melbourne, Florida
Research Partner: Source of flamingo specimen

University of Texas at Austin, HRXRCT Facility
Research Partner: CT scanning site

Funding for this research comes in part from the following National Scientific Foundation (NSF) grants: NSF IBN-0343744 to Witmer, NSF IBN-0407735 to Witmer & Holliday, and NSF IOB-0517257 to Witmer & Ridgely. Other funding provided by Ohio University.

PDF of classic paper on flamingo feeding:
1957. Jenkin. Filter-feedings in flamingos.

  note: Research in the Witmer lab does not involve experimentation on live animals.  Specimens of modern animals used in research are salvage specimens, obtained legally from commercial or governmental sources.
  Ohio University
Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
Irvine Hall, Athens, Ohio 45701
740-593-2530 740-597-2778 fax

Last updated: 11/23/2015