The giraffe is the tallest of all the animal kingdom, growing up to 18 feet in height. Giraffes are megaherbivores – a group that includes elephants and hippos – and they’ve evolved to survive their dangerous habitat of prowling big cats and competing herbivores.
The giraffe has a relatively narrow body, long legs, spotted coat, prehensile tongue, sophisticated organs and a massive long stretch of neck. How do these features give the giraffe an advantage in its natural environment?
Well, the ability to reach more food is likely the major factor in the evolution of the giraffe’s long neck. Remarkably, giraffes have seven vertebrae in their necks – the same as humans – and each bone can measure up to ten inches in length. A greater reach enables a giraffe to enjoy more leaves per mouthful by eating above the heads of competing animals. They’re also able to stretch down to low bushes and deep inside trees for a meal, consuming up to 140 pounds of vegetation in a single day. And because of their diet of lush foliage, giraffes only need a drink of water every few days.
But it’s not just a long neck that enables the giraffe to fill its multi-compartment belly. This species has another highly advanced piece of anatomy – an exceptionally long prehensile tongue. Growing to 21 inches in length, a giraffe’s tongue can easily strip away leaves from thorny branches.
Watch Inside Nature’s Giants: Giraffe Tuesday, December 28 at 12 and 5 PM et/pt on Nat Geo Wild.
Photo Credits: Jodi Kendall