Giraffes are among the most conspicuous animals: With their extremely long necks, they are unmistakable.
What do giraffes look like?
Giraffes have a rather unusual appearance: they have four very long legs and the longest neck of all mammals: like most mammals, it consists of only seven cervical vertebrae. However, these are each a good 40 centimeters long and are supported by very strong neck muscles. However, giraffes did not always have such a long neck. The ancestors of the giraffe, which lived in Europe, Africa, and Asia around 65 million years ago, still had short necks. Only in the course of development did the giraffe’s neck become longer and longer: This gave the animals an advantage because they could use the food supply high up in the trees.
Overall, giraffes reach a body height of about 5.5 meters – sometimes even more. This makes them the highest animals. Their body is up to four meters long and they weigh around 700 kilograms. The females are on average smaller than the males. The front legs of giraffes are longer than the back legs, so the back is sloping sharply.
Giraffes have small antlers consisting of two to five cones. The antlers of a male giraffe can grow up to 25 centimeters long, while those of a female is much shorter. The giraffe’s antlers are protected by a special skin called bast. The fur of the giraffe is brown to beige and has different patterns: depending on the subspecies, giraffes have spots or net-like markings.
Where do giraffes live?
Giraffes live exclusively in Africa. They are found in regions south of the Sahara to South Africa. Giraffes prefer to live in savannahs that are rich in bushes and trees.
What species of giraffes are there?
Together with the okapi, the giraffes form the giraffe family. However, okapis only have short necks. There are eight subspecies of giraffes that are native to different parts of Africa: the Nubian giraffe, the Kordofan giraffe, the Chad giraffe, the reticulated giraffe, the Uganda giraffe, the Maasai giraffe, the Angola giraffe, and the Cape giraffe. These subspecies differ only in the color and pattern of their fur and in the size and shape of their antlers. Other relatives of giraffes include deer. You can tell by the fact that giraffes have small, horn-like antlers.
How old do giraffes get?
Giraffes live to around 20 years, sometimes 25 years or a little more. In captivity, they can even live up to 30 years.
How do giraffes live?
Giraffes live in groups of up to 30 animals and are active during the day and at night. The composition of these groups is always changing and the animals often move from one group to another.
Because giraffes are so large but feed only on leaves and shoots, which are fairly low in nutrients, they spend most of the day eating. They migrate from tree to tree and even graze on branches five meters up. Since giraffes, like cows, are ruminants, when they are not eating they spend the day resting and ruminating on their food. Even at night, the hard-to-digest food is still ruminated. Giraffes sleep very little. They only spend a few minutes at a time asleep. In total, it’s less than two hours a night. They lie down on the ground and bend their heads back towards their bodies.
Short periods of sleep are typical for large mammals since during this period they are not protected from predators and are very vulnerable. The coat color and markings of the giraffes are optimally adapted to their surroundings: the brown and beige tones and the net and spot-like markings mean that they are well camouflaged between the trees in the savannah environment.
Another typical feature of giraffes is their gait: they walk in the so-called amble. This means that the front and back legs of one side are moved forward at the same time. That’s why they have a rocking gait. However, they can still be very fast and can reach a speed of around 60 kilometers per hour when threatened.
Giraffes are usually very peaceful. Maybe that’s where her name comes from: The term “giraffe” comes from the Arabic word “safe”, which means something like “lovely”. Although giraffes have a hierarchy, they hardly ever fight with each other. Only now and then can you see two bulls fighting each other. They bang their heads against each other. These blows can be so powerful that the animals sometimes even faint.
Friends and foes of the giraffe
Only large predators such as lions can be dangerous to sick or young giraffes. Giraffes are usually protected from predators by the camouflage of their fur. In addition, they can see, smell and hear very well and perceive enemies from afar. And adult giraffes can deliver powerful kicks with their hooves that can even crush a lion’s skull. To enjoy the protection of a large herd, giraffes often mingle with groups of zebra or wildebeest.
How do giraffes reproduce?
Female giraffes only ever give birth to one cub. The giraffe baby is born after a gestation period of about 15 months. At birth, it is already two meters tall and weighs over 75 kilograms. The mother stands during the birth so that the young fall to the ground from a height of two meters. Baby giraffes can walk as soon as they are born. In the first year of life, they are still suckled by their mother. But after just a few weeks they are also nibbling on leaves and twigs. After the first year of life, young giraffes are independent and leave their mother. At the age of four, they are capable of reproduction.
How do giraffes communicate?
We humans do not hear a sound from giraffes – but that does not mean that they are mute. Rather, giraffes communicate with infrasound, which we cannot hear. With the help of these very deep tones, they keep in touch with each other even over long distances.