Giraffes are often seen in zoos and movies about African savannas, which causes your kids to be interested in the odd-looking animal. If you are interested in learning facts about giraffes that will interest your child, keep reading.
13. Giraffes Have the Same Number of Neck Vertebrate as Humans
Giraffes’ necks can weigh up to 600 pounds, they have more in common with human necks than meets the eye. In fact, giraffes each have seven neck vertebrae, the same amount of neck bones that humans have!
One large difference is that the vertebrae in giraffes can each grow up to 10 inches long. This is the key factor is why giraffes are able to do so many amazing things with their necks that we are unable to achieve with human necks.
It allows them to reach food high up in the trees, locate approaching predators far off in the distance, and participate in a fighting activity referred to as “necking”.
12. Giraffes are Fast!
Especially considering their large size, giraffes can run at impressively fast speeds. They have been recorded to reach a top speed of 35 to 37 miles per hour over short distances, faster than humans and even some horses! Over longer distances, however, giraffes cruise around at a brisk pace of 10 miles per hour.
These high speeds and elongated quick pace can be helpful for giraffes when avoiding predators. It is difficult for them, however, to do so over a long distance, as they wear out quickly.
11. Most Calves Don’t Live Past the First Four Months
Mother giraffes do their best to protect their young calves, but there are many predators that target them. Apart from humans, lions are a giraffe’s largest predator. Other threats to giraffes on the savannah include hyenas and leopards. These carnivores rarely attack adults, but commonly target young offspring in the wild.
Female giraffes often attempt to protect their young by standing directly over them, but this is not always effective. In some populations of giraffes, 50% of the offspring do not live past their first year of life.
10. Strong Hearts
The blood pressure of giraffes is rather high, measuring 280/180mmHg. This is nearly twice that of humans measuring closer to 120/80mmHg. Higher blood pressure is necessary for giraffes because of the nearly 2-meter journey for blood to travel from the animal’s heart all the way up its neck and into the brain. A giraffe’s heart weighs about 11 kilograms (24 pounds) and has two parts.
The right half of the heart pumps blood to the lungs while the left half has the daunting task of sending blood from the heart, through the animal’s long neck, and to the head, sending blood into the brain.
One reason for giraffes’ high blood pressure is to aid the left side in this task. The higher blood pressure allows the left side of the heart more time in between each heartbeat to obtain blood from the heart that can be sent through thickened blood vessels and travel to the head of the giraffe.
It is common to mistakenly refer to the two small “towers” on a giraffe’s head as horns, but giraffes have their own unique headgear referred to as “ossicones.” The word is a combined derivative of the term from Latin and French root words translates to “bone cones”.
However, these bumps are not truly made of bone material. These ossicones contain ossified cartilage that has hardened and formed a hard and bone-like tissue. They differ from true horns and even antlers in that they are covered in skin or fur as opposed to velvet or keratin.
Amazingly enough, these ossicones differ based on the age and gender of the giraffe. Young giraffes and adult females have thin ossicones with a small tuft of hair coming out of the top. Adult males, however, have larger, thicker ossicones with little or no hair coming out from the top.
The males begin with this hair as well, as aforementioned, but it begins to wear off and even disappear when males use their heads to attack other giraffes and establish dominance.
Baby giraffes are the only mammal in the animal kingdom that is born with horns or horn-like features. However, nature has found a way to protect both the mothers and offspring from harm when delivering their young.
Ossicones begin as soft cartilage, allowing them to lie flat on the baby giraffe’s head before and during birth. In time, the ossification process will begin, hardening the cartilage and fusing them to the skull. This is how adult giraffes are able to have their ossicones fully grown.
8. Their Necks Aren’t Long Enough to Reach the Floor
While giraffes’ necks are impressively long, they are not quite long enough for them to reach their heads to the floor comfortably. This is why they feed on tall leaves and sprouts on trees rather than grazing on shrubs and bushes on the floor of the savannah like most herbivores in their environment.
While they are able to avoid reaching down for food, giraffes do need to lower their heads to the ground to drink water. Fortunately, they need very little water and can survive on only drinking water every few days! This natural phenomenon is possible because of the giraffes’ leafy diet, allowing them to hydrate themselves through the juicy leaves they consume so often.
On the few occasions that giraffes do need to lower their heads, it places the animals in an extremely awkward and vulnerable situation. They need to scan the area very thoroughly for any signs of nearby or approaching predators before lowering their heads for a drink.
After deciding that the area is safe, giraffes must widely spread out their long legs or kneel in front of the water source. This leaves the animals completely exposed while drinking and is assumed to be a large factor in why they have evolved to find ways to do so on as few occasions as possible.
7. Groups of Giraffes are Called Towers
Giraffes commonly travel and live in “loose groups” but do not form permanent herds. These groups generally consist of about 15 members. Each group is led by an adult male for protection. The remaining members of the group are females, calves, and younger males. These groups are referred to as “towers” which are ironically named considering based on giraffes’ height.
6. Spend Most of Their Lives Standing Up
Giraffes spend the majority of their lives standing. Mothers even give birth while on their feet! Young offspring fall about 1.5 meters when they are born, a hard welcome to life. Luckily, these calves are extremely resilient. They, too are standing on their feet within an hour from the time they are born! A few short hours later, they are running alongside their mothers and within a few months, they are eating solid food as well.
Only requiring between 10 minutes to 2 hours of sleep, giraffes have the lowest sleep requirement of any mammal! Because of this, many giraffes even sleep while standing up! They are commonly recorded as taking short naps only a couple of minutes long throughout the day, all while on their feet.
5. Fight Using Their Long Necks
Adult giraffes often establish dominance through an activity known as “necking”, which is a method of fighting using their long necks. This is generally done by bulls, which are male giraffes, but has also been seen among cows, which is the name used to refer to female giraffes.
When necking, the giraffe swings its long neck in a series of attacks with its heads, colliding its skull against its opponent’s body and underside. Giraffes have reinforced skulls, serving as protection for them from the harsh contact. Even with this additional padding, giraffes have been seen to fall unconscious, and under rare circumstances even die from the attacks.
4. Excellent Eyesight
While their height helps them in spotting lurking predators, giraffes also rely largely on their keen eyesight. Their eyes are easily among the largest of all terrestrial mammals and give them excellent vision in nearly every direction! Giraffes see in color as well! They enjoy great peripheral vision, which extends so far that they can almost see things directly behind them.
Combined with their high vantage point, this incredible eyesight allows giraffes to see predators, most commonly lions, from nearly a mile away! This is an incredible skill that often protects giraffes from surprise attacks. It proves beneficial and even life-saving for giraffes, their offspring, and groups.
3. Tongues that Act Like Fingers
There are many unique qualities of giraffe tongues, but one of the most obvious is their color: best described as dark blue, purple, or even black! It is commonly explained to be so dark in color as protection from such harsh and direct sunlight, which is especially necessary with tongues that grow up to 45 to 50 cm long! While this theory is widely accepted, it is yet to be scientifically proven.
Tongues act for giraffes much like humans use our fingers. Being so long, they are extremely helpful in grabbing and moving objects, most commonly being food. Giraffes are herbivores and feed on a variety of plants and shoots, most commonly the Senegalia and Vachellia species.
These species of plants have skillfully developed spiky defensive thorns, forcing giraffes to become more resourceful. Giraffe’s tongues have thickened layers of papillae and extra-thick saliva that act as additional protection from these dangerous thorns. The mammals must then exercise great skill in moving their tongues to avoid thorns and successfully distinguish them from their favorite food source.
2. World’s Tallest Mammals
It is no surprise that giraffes are the world’s tallest mammals. They are well known for their long necks and legs. Adult giraffes can grow up to 5.5 meters (18 feet) tall! That is the height of nearly three adult males stacked on top of each other! Their legs alone can often be 6 feet long. Giraffes’ necks can grow up to 6 feet as well, weighing up to 600 pounds, which is nearly half of their body weight.
Baby giraffes are even born as tall as humans are as adults! They measure around six feet tall when born. This allows mothers to stand above their young as a protective measure against predators.
1. Spot Patterns are Unique, Social Markings, and Heat Regulating
Much like snowflakes and human fingerprints, no two giraffes have the same spot pattern. While each spot pattern is unique, it has been recently proven that giraffes do, in part, inherit their spot pattern from their mothers. This allows mothers to recognize their offspring more easily and quickly in large groups, an especially helpful tool for mothers with strong protective natures, allowing them to identify their offspring and keep them from danger.
One large purpose of giraffe’s spots is to act as camouflage and protect them from predators. Their tan and brown spots allow them to blend in with the African savannah, and increase their chances of survival in the wild!
Young giraffes with larger, more irregularly shaped spots are 7.5% more likely to survive their first four months of life. In contrast, offspring with smaller, more uniformly shaped spots are more easily spotted by predators and have lower survival rates.
A less obvious purpose of giraffe’s spot patterns is through an intricated method of heat regulation. The African savannah is one of the most unforgivingly hot and dry locations on Earth, which means that animals need to adapt for survival there. Many animals roll around in the dirt or cover themselves in mud as protection from the heat, but giraffes’ long legs and necks hinder them from these popular activities used by their neighbors to cool down.
Each spot on giraffes is outlined by a large blood vessel, which connects to branches of smaller blood vessels throughout the center of each spot. The larger, outer vessel sends blood into the center of the spot, acting as a thermal window.
Giraffes are able to release body heat through each spot using this cooling method. With many of these spots on their body, giraffes are able to efficiently regulate their body heat and successfully live in an environment with such harsh sunlight, despite their large size.