7 Things You've Always Wondered About Giraffes

Oakland Zoo
June 7, 2018

Giraffes are amazingly unique animals, with a lot of interesting features and behaviors.  Here are 7 things that you may have always been curious about when seeing these lanky long necks.

1. Looooong Neck

How many vertebrae, or “neck bones” do you have in your neck? 7! How many does a giraffe have? 7! How about a dog? 7! And a cat? 7! Starting to see a trend here….the only mammals that don’t have 7 are sloths and manatees, but that’s a different story.  For giraffes, however, each cervical vertebrae can be over 10 inches long!

2. Tongue Tied

Don’t be offended if a giraffe sticks it’s tongue out at you.  Giraffes amazing tongue is a uniquely adapted tool to help it reach food.  The tongue can measure 18 to 20 inches long and is what is known as “prehensile” allowing it to wrap around branches and pull leaves off.  Not only that – it’s built for the sun.  The dark coloration of the tongue acts as built in sunscreen protecting it from harmful uv rays – wouldn’t feel to great having a sun-burnt tongue, would it? It can also do...well, this with its tongue.

3. Horns? Antlers? Bumpy Heads?

Does a giraffe have horns? Not quite. Giraffe ‘horns’ are not actually called horns, but ‘ossicones’ and both female and male giraffe have them. Ossicones are formed from ossified (hardened into bone) cartilage and are covered in skin.

4. Is that a male or a female?

Other than looking underneath the giraffe one way you can tell is by looking at their ossicones. Females’ are often thin and tufted, male giraffe normally have thicker ossicones that become bald on top as a result of frequent necking (fighting with their necks & heads).

5. All in the Family

What is the closest relative to a giraffe you ask?  The okapi! You might think this animal is more related to a zebra based on its stripes, but it’s sometimes called a forest giraffe.

6. Does a Giraffe Ever Sleep?

Short answer – not very often in the wild.  Here at the zoo they get more sleep because of a rich diet and a lack of predators that they need to keep an eye open for, but in the wild, giraffes only need 5 to 30 minutes of sleep in a 24-hour period! They often achieve that in quick naps that may last only a minute or two at a time.

7. What does the giraffe say?!!

Well, not much that we can hear.  Other than an occasional grunt or snort, giraffes produce a low humming noise with a sound frequency too low for humans to hear.  Try listening really, really hard next time!

Learn more about giraffes and how you can help them in the wild! »