Giraffes: 6 Interesting Facts About the Tallest Animal on Earth

Discover six fun and interesting facts you probably didn’t know about the tall and elegant giraffe, the world’s skyscraper animals.

Oct 7, 2023By Caitlin Ross
tallest animal on earth

We all know giraffes for their long, stretchy necks and their distinctive spots. We’ve seen them in children's movies, and you might have been lucky enough to encounter one in the wild. However, there’s a lot we don’t know about these strange and mysterious creatures, aside from the fact that they’re incredibly tall! Here are some interesting things you might want to know.

Silent Communication

Image credit: Conservation Mag

Giraffes are known for being the quieter members of the family, and if somebody asked you to make the sound of a giraffe, you probably wouldn’t know what to do!

However, just because we can’t hear them like we might hear an elephant, doesn’t mean they’re not communicating in their own unique way.

Giraffes, despite their quiet nature, are actually incredibly social and move around in herds of about 10 - 12 members. When they talk to one another, these elegant creatures sometimes make little coughing sounds (particularly as a mating call) or whistle at their young to warn them of danger.

Most often, though, giraffes communicate non-verbally, with their posture, eye movement, and by touching one another gently.

Rude Awakening

baby giraffe
Image credit: Monarto Safari Park

Have you ever been accused of being dropped at birth? To a human, this is a pretty awful insult to our intelligence, but for a giraffe, it’s just par for the course!

Mama giraffes have interesting birth rituals, which include standing up tall and proud when it’s time for their babies to make an appearance. This takes place mainly for the sake of protecting the newborn’s long neck.

However, the long drop also means that the baby giraffe hits the ground with quite a shock, which helps them by shocking them into taking their first breaths, and further tears the amniotic sack and snaps their short umbilical cords, getting them ready to take on the big, big world.

Black-Tongued Beauty

giraffe tongue
Image credit: Safaris Africana

If you’ve ever really looked at a giraffe up close, you might have noticed something strange - giraffe tongues are almost completely black.

This darker color is due to an excess of melanin in their mouths, and this incredible adaptation is intended to protect their tongues from sunburn when they’re using them to grab leaves from high-up branches.

You might notice that the ends of their tongues are darker and that the tops further backward are usually more pink or purple since they get far less sun exposure.

Giraffe’s tongues measure up to 20 inches long, and they’re incredibly strong, which allows them to grasp the leaves and even maneuver between thorns to grab their food!

Fingerprint Patterns

giraffe spots
Image credit: Animal Spot

We all know about a giraffe’s distinctive spots, but these patterns are more than just a pretty picture.

The spotted pattern on each giraffe is completely unique, and different subspecies of giraffes are also differentiated by variations in the shapes of their spots.

For each individual, their spots are like human fingerprints - completely unique identifiers. These patterns allow giraffes in a herd or family to recognize one another quickly and easily, even though we as humans wouldn't be able to tell one apart from another.

Not only this, but a giraffe’s spots also act as a form of camouflage out in the wild, helping these animals to blend into their surroundings in the tall grasses of the African savanna. The trees in these areas provide loads of shade, and the spots help giraffes to blend in with the moving shade patterns.

Who Needs Sleep?

sleeping giraffe
Image credit: Thomson Safaris

We human beings are pretty reliant on sleep, needing around seven to nine hours a night in order to function at our best. Giraffes, on the other hand, only sleep around four or five hours a day in total, and they do so in short bursts of only a few minutes at a time.

This is because giraffes are always on high alert for predators. Being active and ready to go at any given moment helps to make sure they’re ready to outrun anyone or anything that wants to make them their next meal.

Another interesting fact is that while baby giraffes sleep lying down with their legs tucked cozily underneath them, adult giraffes typically sleep standing up, wherever they happen to be when the mood takes over.

Personal Grooming

oxpeckers on giraffe
Image credit: PSNP

Have you ever wished that you could have a personal assistant follow you around everywhere to touch up your hair and makeup? Giraffes are lucky to have this in what’s known as a symbiotic relationship with a species of bird called the oxpecker.

These birds keep giraffes looking and feeling their best by eating ticks and parasites off their skin and hair and even out of their teeth! This relationship is beneficial for the bird, too, as these grubs provide them with the nutrients they need to keep themselves going.

It might sound gross, but if it works, it works!

Caitlin Ross
By Caitlin Ross

Caitlin is an animal lover at heart with a passion for writing and sharing this love with the world. She’s a born and raised South African and grew up always surrounded by animals: more pets than she can count, and regularly adventuring with her family into the bush, where she feels most at peace with the wildlife in their natural habitat.