Flamingos Might Be 18 Million Years Old!

Photo by PeterEtchells/Shutterstock.com

Did you know that flamingos may have histories on this planet dating back 18 million years?

That was the major discovery made about a decade ago in the Ebro Basin, located in northeast Spain. Inside of a limestone block, researchers found five eggs of what they believed to be flamingo chicks from 18 million years in the past. The preserved nest, uncovered at the bottom of a shallow lake, was not immediately recognizable as belonging to flamingos. It wasn’t until microscopic pieces of the eggs were tested that it was determined that they one encased future flamingos.

In October 2012, paleontologist Gerald Grellet-Tinner and his team reported their work, and it changed the way scientists see flamingos.

This may seem unbelievable, but that’s science for you. Maybe you don’t want to believe that flamingos walked this world 18 million years ago, which places the bird many millions of years ahead of the Homo sapien timeline. But you cannot deny that flamingos have been around for several thousands of years at a minimum - there is simply too much evidence.

Last August, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) announced that a fossilized flamingo egg had been found at the construction site for the Felipe Angeles International Airport. Sitting just one foot below the earth’s surface, the egg was in outstanding shape, especially given how long it had sat there for - it was dated back to the Pleistocene period, the latest Ice Age earth experienced, and estimated to be between 8,000 and 12,000 years old.

It’s a far cry from 18 million, but there is no denying that at the very least, the fabulous fowl has been dancing around this giant rock for quite some time.

What Does This Mean?

Well, you still have to go to work and/or school tomorrow, so it doesn’t solve that dilemma, but for researchers and others who find interest in the science of life, it matters.

The nest that the 18 million-year-old eggs were found in wasn’t built like a typical flamingo nest you would think of today. Instead, it more resembled the nest of a modern grebe, utilizing twigs and leaves to hold a handful of eggs rather than a muddy volcano that towers above the ground to keep one egg safe

Photo by Steve Bower/Shutterstock.com

Given the tight relation between flamingos and grebes, it makes sense that their nesting habits were similar at one time. At some point in the last 18-odd million years, that changed. It seems as though flamingos evolved - for whatever reason or reasons - to lay one egg at a time and perch it on a pedestal, diverging from the low-lying, multi-egg approach. There could have been any number of motivations for this subconscious alteration, and we can’t know for sure what they were. But simply acknowledging this transition is a notable breakthrough in understanding not only how flamingos operate but how all organisms on earth grow to be what and how they are.

What Other Animals Are 18 Million Years Old?

If flamingos were flapping around 18 million years old, who were they hanging out with?

Well, I’m not sure if flamingos were hanging out with them - at least, not on their own accord - but crocodiles have been linked back about that far. In 2022, scientists discovered the past existence of a now-extinct species of crocodile known as the giant dwarf crocodile. They supposedly reached up to 12 feet in length, a big jump from the average 4 to 5-foot length of modern dwarf crocodiles found in central and western Africa, and may have preyed upon our ancient ancestors.

“These were the biggest predators our ancestors faced,” Christopher Brochu, co-author of the study and University of Iowa professor, said in a statement. “They were opportunistic predators, just as crocodiles are today. It would have been downright perilous for ancient humans to head down to the river for a drink.”

Though Homo sapiens are thought to have emerged less than 1 million years ago, common ancestors between humans and apes have been dated as far back as 18 million years ago. In 1984, scientists in Kenya discovered bones of ape-like creatures considered to be as old or older than the flamingo eggs found in Spain in 2012.

This is just scratching the surface of all the animals that have been traced back that far back. Whales, horseshoe crabs, beavers, and many more creatures have had bones, teeth, eggs, and other pieces of their past uncovered to place them so many millions of years behind the present.

Now I Wanna Uncover Ancient Secrets That Alter Our Collective Consciousness. Can I?

In theory, sure. It’s not exactly easy, and it’s generally only something highly-trained professionals do, but I doubt the Mexican construction worker who came across those flamingo eggs last year had a degree in paleontology. If you’re lucky enough, you could find anything, anywhere!

You can go out of your way to improve your odds, though, and you don’t need a fancy diploma or years of schooling to get there. You can do like these guys did, and if you know what you’re looking for, you might just find something pretty cool and pretty old.

Good luck on your endeavors. And if you find anything flamingo-related, send us the exclusive scoop, okay? The Popular Flamingo is itching to break some serious flamingo news!

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