Giraffes are well-known for tall profile, their long neck, and distinct patchwork pattern and are therefore among the most recognizable creatures in the animal kingdom. Their large eyes, long tongue, sizeable ears, and tufted tail further contribute to their unique appearance. Despite giraffes being easily recognizable, there are many lesser-known facts about giraffes that make them worth a closer look.
FACT: Giraffes are the tallest of all living land animals. Giraffes tower over all other living land animals. The reach heights of nearly 6 m (19 ft) Their long neck consists of just seven vertebrae. This is the same number of vertebrae as occurs in all other mammals but in giraffes, each neck vertebrae is greatly elongated.
FACT: The okapi is the closest living relative to the giraffe. Giraffes belong to the family Giraffidae. The family Giraffidae, in turn is subdivided into two subgroups, the genus Giraffa and the genus Okapia. The genus Giraffa consists of a single species, Giraffa camelopardalis. Likewise, the genus Okapia also contains only one species, Okapia johnstoni.
FACT: Giraffes prefer habitats where there is an abundance of acacia trees on which they feed. Giraffes have a preference for feeding on young leaves and shoots but will eat grasses and other plant matter. Their favorite meal consists of the tender leaves that grow on the crowns of acacia trees. They have long, prehensile that provide them with great dexterity and the ability to grasp onto shoots and pull them into their mouths as they strip off the leaves.
FACT: Giraffes inhabit Sub-Saharan Africa. Giraffes are native to Africa and can be found in a range that extends from Chad in Central Africa to South Africa. They occur mainly in arid regions such as savannas, grasslands, and open woodlands. Giraffes are no longer survive in most of western Africa except for a small remnant population located in Niger.
FACT: Giraffes have short horns on their head also known as ossicones. Both male and female giraffes have horns. Giraffe horns are formed from ossified cartilage (cartilage that has transformed into bone) and for that reason the horns of giraffes are also called ossicones. The ossicones of giraffes remain covered by skin and fur. Ossicones can help to distinguish between male and female giraffes. Females have tufts of hair on the top of the ossicones. Males, in contrast, usually have bare-topped ossicones (the hair tufts and skin are often worn away during combat with other males).
FACT: There is one species of giraffe and numerous subspecies. Experts disagree on the exact number of giraffe subspecies and some feel that the differences between some giraffes may merit them being classified as distinct species (not merely different subspecies). Some of the various subspecies that have been described include the reticulated giraffe (G. c. reticulata), Angolan giraffe (G. c. angolensis), Masai giraffe (G. c. tippelskirchi), Rothschild giraffe (G. c. rothschildi), South African giraffe (G. c. giraffa), West African giraffe (G. c. peralta), Thornicroft giraffe (G. c. thornicrofti), Nubian giraffe (G. c. camelopardalis) and Kordofan giraffe (G. c. antiquorum).
FACT: White giraffes are extremely rare and are not albininos. In 1938, a giraffe bull was filmed in Kenya that was almost entirely white except for its dark eyes. Since that time, a number of white giraffe bulls have been described (the most recent being spotted by Charles Foley of the Wildlife Conservation Society in 2005). But all of these white giraffes have had some pigmentation, either dark eyes or a faint coat pattern. As a result, no true albino giraffes have ever been discovered.
FACT: The earliest known member of the family Giraffidae was Climacoceras. Climacoceras looked more deer-like than giraffe but did possess ossicones. Climacoceras is first known to have appeared in the early Miocene. By the mid-Miocene, other groups of giraffids evolved including Palaeotragus and Samotherium. These creatures still had rather short necks when compared to present-day giraffes.
FACT: Giraffes have longer forelegs than hind legs. When viewed in profile, a giraffe's shoulders are noticeably higher than their hips and their back forms a downward slope as it approaches the tail.
FACT: A giraffe's heart has special adaptations to enable it to pump blood up the animal's long neck to its head. A giraffe's heart has the formidable task of pumping blood at high enough pressure so that it can flow up the giraffe's neck to the brain. To accomplish this, a giraffe's heart is specially adapted. It can weigh up to 10 kg (22 lb) and generates twice the blood pressure of other large mammals. Having enough blood pressure to pump blood to the brain when the giraffe's neck is extended upward is one challenge, but when the animal lowers its head it risks injury due to excessive blood pressure. To counter this, giraffes have a pressure-regulating system known as the rete mirabile which restricts the amount of blood that rushes towards the brain when the giraffe lowers its head.