Interesting Facts About The Giraffe
Giraffes are the world's tallest living land mammal, with males reaching up to a whopping 19 feet. Native to Africa, the giraffe's habitat spans nearly the entire continent. As mammals, giraffes share many qualities with humans and other animals, but they do have some very interesting and unique attributes even beyond their remarkable size and shape.
Like the world's heaviest land animal, the elephant, giraffes are herbivores. They eat a wide range of plants, stripping the leaves from the branches with their 18-inch-long tongues. In contrast to the typical mammalian pink, a giraffe's tongue is dark, the same color as a Chow Chow dog.
Giraffes are related to cows and when it comes to how they eat, it shows. Both species "chew their cud," which means that they regurgitate small amounts of food and chew them a second time. They also have multiple chambers in their stomachs. These adaptations enable them to survive on plants that are relatively poor sources of energy.
The preferred food of most giraffes is acacia, a type of tree with spines up to six inches long. The tough lips and tongue of the giraffe can resist punctures from acacia thorns, but those of most other animals cannot. Combined with their incredible height, this means that there isn't much competition for a giraffe eating the leaves at the top of acacia trees, except, of course, from other giraffes.
The long neck of a giraffe somewhat surprisingly shares the same number of bones as the human neck. Instead of having more vertebrae, giraffes simply have the same number of much larger bones. The seven vertebrae in an adult giraffe's neck are each as long as a man's forearm.
The heart is the organ responsible for circulating blood around the body in all animals. In the giraffe, it faces the challenge of pumping blood to the animal's head high above torso level. The organ required to meet the needs of life as a giraffe weighs 25 pounds on average and is about two feet long. It also has walls several inches thick.
Giraffes have the highest known blood pressure in the world. It is required in order to keep blood moving to the head, but it has some downsides. Adult giraffes that are over-exercised can have a heart attack because their high blood pressure makes them susceptible. Except for human intervention, this is not usually a problem because adult giraffes have no natural predators.
Although they are famous for their long necks, giraffes also have two other very long body parts: their legs and their tails. Even though their necks are long, their legs are actually longer. In order for its head to reach the ground, a giraffe must stand awkwardly with its front legs spread. An adult giraffe is also the owner of the world's longest known tail at up to 8 feet in length.
Female giraffes and their young live in groups, while adult males are sometimes solitary. One of the advantages of female and offspring groups are what are known as creches. Rotating adult females remain with the young to watch and protect them while the others feed, enabling them to wander farther in search of food than they otherwise could.
Adult giraffes have no predators except for humans, but lions will attempt to hunt infant and juvenile animals. This is not without risk to the lion, however, because a blow from the hooves of a protective adult female can kill. Hooves are usually the sole weapon used against predators, but adult male giraffes fight each other by using their heads as battering rams.
In addition to their fighting abilities, adult giraffes are also quite capable of out-running the need to fight in many cases. Despite their ungainly appearance when fleeing, giraffes can reach speeds of 36 miles per hour or more for short periods of time. Most of their travel is done at a more leisurely pace, however, as they roam across their home territory, which averages 46 square miles.
A female giraffe usually conceives her first calf at the age of four or five. The 6-foot-tall infant is born approximately 15 months later and drops the six or so feet to the ground because mother giraffes gives birth standing up. Despite this startling entrance into the world, a normal infant will be standing and nursing within an hour of birth.
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