Fun Facts About Giraffes

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The giraffe is a truly complex creature with a colorful genetic and social history. Here are some fun facts you might not know about this artiodactyl (even-toed) mammal:

  • The name “giraffe” comes from Somali by way of Arabic.
  • Giraffes were first classified as a species in 1758.
  • Every giraffe’s skin pattern is unique.
  • A giraffe’s neck can stretch up to eight feet long.
  • On average, an adult giraffe eats 75 pounds of foliage every day.
  • Giraffes can live for up to 40 years.
  • Giraffes are the tallest living terrestrial animal.
  • The giraffe is considered its own species, encompassing nine subspecies.
  • Seven subspecies of giraffe are extinct.
  • Giraffes are herbivores, largely subsisting on the leaves, fruits, and flowers of woody plants like acacia.
  • Social hierarchies in the giraffe kingdom are determined by male “necking” duals, wherein the neck is used to determine dominance.
  • As of 2016, there were 97,500 giraffes in the wild and 1,600 in zoos.
  • In the Middle Ages, the giraffe was commonly called a camelopard, owing to its camel-like shape and leopard-like skin pattern.

An adult giraffe dines on hard-to-reach foliage

Source: iStock / tracielouise
  • The Nubian giraffe distinguishes itself from other giraffe subspecies with no spotting on its underside.
  • Male giraffes are born with two stout “horns,” known in the science world as ossicones, often used in combat. Instead of being made of bone, as most horns are, ossicones are made of hardened cartilage.
  • Adult giraffes generally sleep around five hours per day, though seldom all in one stretch.
  • Given the length of its neck, a giraffe’s blood pressure is typically double that of an adult human; this allows it to pump blood all the way to its head.
  • Giraffes have four-chambered stomachs.
  • Most of the time, giraffes tend to self-segregate by sex.
  • Ancient Egyptians kept giraffes as pets, eventually honoring the creature with its own hieroglyph.
  • The giraffe has been studied by scientists and federal agencies keen on learning about giraffe skin. Scientists have determined that the tight skin on the creature’s legs keeps blood from pooling, preventing it from fainting. Similarly, scientists want to prevent astronauts from losing consciousness if blood rushes to their legs in situations of rapidly-changing gravity.
  • A rare condition called leucism affects some giraffes, rendering their skin entirely white. This is different from albinism, which would also render the giraffe’s eyes and hair white.
  • Giraffes can run as fast as 35 miles per hour.
  • Female giraffes give birth standing up.
  • In most cases, giraffes only need to drink every few days. This is largely because the water they need is secured from leafy meals.
  • A giraffe’s tongue can grow to almost two feet in length; this helps them secure leaves and twigs from difficult-to-reach branches.
  • Most adult giraffes are taller than 18 feet. That’s about the height of three human beings standing on top of each other.