Why Giraffes have Long Necks

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Giraffes are the tallest animals that exist today. Male giraffes can reach about 19 feet in height. Their necks are about 1/4 of their body size, yet only have 7 vertebrae, the same as you and I!

The main reason a giraffe has a long neck, is that it likes to eat leaves from high up in the trees. It's neck gives it the advantage of being able to reach even high trees. It also has a long tongue (18" -22") that it uses to help get the leaves from the tree. Their upper lip, working with the tongue, helps them get the leaves off the tree. The long tongues also have the advantage of helping the giraffe to reach around thorns. They also put layers of sticky, thick saliva over the thorns to keep from getting pricked while they are grabbing leaves.

The problem with the long neck only comes in when they drink. They have to spread their legs wide to hold themselves up while they dip their head to the water. When they do this, they can be a good target for predators. Because of this they don't drink very often. The dew on the leaves they eat help keep them hydrated in between drinks. When they do drink, about every 2 or 3 days, they can drink up to 12 gallons of water at a time! That's a lot of water.

Giraffes can see 360 degrees without turning their heads, so they can see predators coming. If a predator gets close, they can give them a good kick. Giraffes can also run very fast at almost 30 miles per hour without tiring easily. When they move the front and rear legs of each side of the animal move forward together. This is called "the pacing". All of this, plus a heart that weights about 25 pounds and a 6 to 8 foot long windpipe, make the giraffe one of the most fascinating animals on the planet.

(artcle by Saurin Desai Published: 7/17/2004)

More about this author: Angela S. Young

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