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Why a Giraffe's Neck Is Long

Updated on December 9, 2018
A long-necked giraffe at Safari Park and Zoo in Kidderminister, UK. (Taken on the 26/10/2010)
A long-necked giraffe at Safari Park and Zoo in Kidderminister, UK. (Taken on the 26/10/2010) | Source

The most common question asked about a giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) is why do they have a long neck? To begin with, the giraffe is an African mammal in the family Girrafidae. The scientific was suggested because it looks like a camel with spotted coats. In ancient times, the Greeks and Romans believed the giraffe is partly a leopard and partly a camel which gives it the scientific name camelopardalis (the Latin name for cameleopard).

The giraffe has developed a long neck in the process of evolution. It is the tallest terrestrial animal living today as well as being the largest even-toed ungulate mammal (ruminant). The giraffe's lanky legs and distinguished long neck is the reason that makes the animal the tallest in the world.

Giraffe of Safari Park (26/06/10)
Giraffe of Safari Park (26/06/10) | Source

The Maintaining of the Giraffe's Long Neck

The way a giraffe lives with a long neck is almost similar to herbivorous dinosaurs such as the Brachiosaurus who also had a long neck. Just like the Brachiosaurus, the giraffe has a strong heart which is well adapted to pump sufficient blood to the neck and then to the brain against gravity. The average giraffe's heart can weigh around 10kg and measure 60cm long. The heart is capable of generating twice the blood pressure, which is crucial to pump blood all around the giraffe's body. Although the giraffe's heart is small but powerful, the muscle walls are very thick, however, the head is nearly 2 meters away from the heart. In order for the blood to reach the head, the beating of the heart must be strong enough. Because they have very high blood pressure, this makes it sufficient and possible for the giraffe to succeed in dealing with the weighty downward pressure that is mainly caused by gravity.

The size of a giraffe's neck can vary between individuals. It can measure between 1.4 meters to 2 meters or maybe even longer, just about the same sizes as the their lanky legs. Despite the differing size of their necks, it's still appears and regarded as a long neck. The neck of the average giraffe can weigh 200 pounds and highest weight can go over 500 pounds, but it really depends on the giraffe's location and where the individuals are bred.

The giraffe's neck consists of seven cervical vertebrae and each one of them is around 10 inches long. These bones are a very important anatomical feature and are joined together like balls and sockets. According to scientists and several sources, humans also have seven cervical vertebrae which makes us equal to the giraffes(however their necks are long and ours are not). These bones enable the giraffe's neck to be more flexible, in other words, the neck is slinky and and moves smoothly. If you observe the giraffe striding, the neck moves back and forth. The reason why this happens is mainly due to the giraffe's weight and the movement of the neck which controls the giraffe's center of gravity. This structure of the elongated vertebrae of the neck is crucial to provide extra stability.

Most importantly, because the giraffe's anatomy is unique and extraordinary, it has a specialized cardiovascular system that continuously keeps blood flowing to the brain and heart. The blood vessels have valves in the long neck that prevents the blood from back-flowing due to the gravity. This is essential when the giraffe moves its neck and head around, and the cardiovascular system helps the giraffe not to get any possible head rushes, especially when it bends its neck down to the ground to drink water. The same thing applies when the giraffe is sitting on the ground and you may notice that it tosses its neck to and fro to assist it to rise and stand up on its four lanky legs. The cardiovascular system ensures no lethal head rush is caused in the giraffe.

Giraffe of Safari Park (26/06/10)
Giraffe of Safari Park (26/06/10) | Source
Giraffe of Safari Park (26/06/10)
Giraffe of Safari Park (26/06/10) | Source

Neck for Feeding and Observing

Giraffes have long necks which gives them the capability to reach high branches of trees to feed themselves. In fact, they eat the thorny leaves and buds of the Acacia tree, especially in Africa. The long neck is important for them and they depend on it to survive. Most other herbivores cannot reach the leaves of tall plants or trees like the giraffes. The only animal is the monkey which competes with the giraffe and also takes tree leaves for food. However, the giraffe can eat between 60 to 75 pounds of leaves and twigs in a day, so the monkey is powerless to stop it and may become annoyed. This is what makes the giraffe's long neck so useful, but it's a good thing the herbivore is not a peeping tom. The giraffe is able to see and keep an out for predators such as lions, and its height and long neck gives the giraffe an advantage to look further ahead of any possible threats.

Another interesting fact is that they have a tongue which is between 18-20 inches long. The tongue can appear as black, purple, blue or kind of greyish-pinkish. The long tongue helps the giraffe to reach for leaves which are hard to get to. The giraffes can even reach and lick its own ears to clean them.

Necking

What is necking in giraffes? To put it simply, it's a neck-wrestling match between two male giraffes. This is a challenge to prove who's the best. Whoever wins will get the female to mate, in other words, it's all about sexual dominance. The neck-wrestling matches consists of rubbing each others necks and bumping, shoving or nudging each other. Before the match begins, both males get prepared by spreading their legs to get a firm stance, then they swing their heads around widely and try hitting one another using their ossicles (short horns on top of their heads).

Wrestling with their necks however, is a light and gentle battle, otherwise they may get neck pains or cause other physical injuries. There have also been reports that giraffes engage in brutal fights and end up with necks being damaged or the jaws being broken. The blows they give may be slow and gentle but it can be severe hard blows and sound of the blows can be heard several meters away. These fights may also last up to 30 minutes. In some cases, when the battle is over, both male giraffes start to make peace by rubbing or entwining their necks, a way of showing love and respect.

Source

Well as giraffes say, you don't get no leaves unless you stick your neck out.

— Sid Waddell

Comments

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    • KoraleeP profile image

      Koralee Phillips 

      7 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Wow! This is a really cool article. I was really surprised at how long their necks really are- it's been awhile since I have seen a giraffe close up. It was really ineresting to find out why their necks are the way they are. Thank you. Voting up and sharing!

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      7 years ago from Norfolk

      I loved seeing these animals in South Africa. It was always a thrill to see them. My favorite animals!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      7 years ago

      As you wrote, the giraffe's anatomy is unique and extraordinary. I love watching them when we go to the local zoo. They are such graceful creatures, in spite of their awkard body build. Very well done!

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 

      7 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      Thank you zia for this wonderful and education hub. I always wondered why they..

      Had long neck.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      7 years ago from Wales

      So interesting and thanks for sharing.

      Eddy.

    • Dont Taze Me Bro profile image

      Banned cause of PISSANTS Promisem and Dean Traylor 

      7 years ago

      Did you hear about the race between two giraffes?

      It was neck and neck!

      Very informative hub. Just thought it could use some humor.

      Why are giraffes so slow to apologize?

      It takes them a long time to swallow their pride!

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