Why Do Giraffes Have Long Necks?

Giraffes are nearly 20 feet tall. Close to half their height is credited to their long, elegant necks!

Oct 15, 2023By Jill Horton
why do giraffes have long necks

Combining the neck length of a single group of giraffes would be about the same size as five blue whales! Why do giraffes have long necks, though? Read on to find out!

The Giraffe is the Tallest Land Mammal

giraffe zebras
Image Credit: Charl Durand on Pexels

Giraffes win the award for being the tallest mammals to set foot, or hoof in this case, on land! While not every animal within a species is the same size, these stately creatures stand about six times higher than the largest dog breed. The ladies grow around 14 feet tall, while the giraffe gents gain about another yard.

How long is their neck, though? Believe it or not, the answer is nearly eight feet long. As if that isn’t surprising enough, a giraffe’s neck can weigh up to 600 pounds!

Lucious Manes and Tails

giraffe pair
Image Credit: Andreas Göllner on Pixabay

Beautiful hair is something to be proud of. While a giraffe lacks a lion’s voluminous tresses, it has a mane that goes down its neck. Talk about long hair! On average, an adult human’s hair can grow to a maximum of about three feet long. Add another five feet to that, and you can rock a giraffe’s luscious locks! The hair along a giraffe’s neck stands out straight like an 80s glam band member. A mega-sized can of hairspray is unnecessary to pull off the look, though.

Tail hair is truly prized and is often sold in the form of bracelets or other hand-crafted goods. It grows to a little over three feet long and accounts for one of the top reasons giraffes are hunted. The animals use it to keep insects at bay. They curl their tails up while speeding through the savannah at an impressive 35 mph!

Reach for the Sky

giraffe eating
Image Credit: Anna Tarazevich on Pexels

Have you ever fed a giraffe at a zoo? Depending on the location, guests help sustain them by purchasing a snack for these beautiful creatures. They need around 75 pounds of food daily to maintain their 1,500- to 3,000-pound bodies!

Giraffes are ruminants, like cattle, sheep, and goats. That means they digest the vegetation they eat by fermenting it like a fine wine and chewing the cud. Most of their day is spent in search of food.

What is a giraffe’s favorite food? It’s something that their long necks are perfect for helping them gather! Giraffes adore eating the leaves from acacia trees and shrubs more than anything else. The extra height allows them to forage for food in places other animals can’t reach. Their 18-inch-long tongues and special lips snatch the leaves beyond the three-inch-long acacia thorns. Unique saliva protects a giraffe’s delicate insides from any sharp bits they might swallow.


giraffe drinking
Image Credit: Charmain Jansen van Rensburg on Pexels

Danger lurks in the water. It prowls on land and hunts from the air. Crocodiles, big cats, and hyenas are giraffes’ main predators. Bending their long necks down for a refreshing drink turns these giants into sitting ducks. On the other hand, their heads are usually held high to spot a security threat in advance.

Because they get a lot of their hydration needs through plant leaf moisture, giraffes only occasionally stop for water. They only need to drink water once every handful of days, limiting their potential exposure to crocodiles. Unlike humans, giraffes don’t get head rushes that could make them lose their balance, either. Their bodies have advanced circulatory systems that keep blood from pumping into their heads too fast when they lift them.

The Competition is Neck and Neck

male giraffes necking fighting
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

When competing over a female, what starts as a close game only has one winner. Giraffe males joust each other with their long necks. They swing their heads like clubs, gaining force by how much of an arc they can muster. The longer a male’s neck is, the better his chance of landing a more powerful blow than his opposition.

When fighting off a predator, a single kick from this mammal’s front leg can result in the other animal’s demise. During a fight to win a date with an eligible lady, two male giraffes refrain from this tactic. However, accidents do happen, and a blow to a vulnerable spot from a hard head can result in a fatality.

Welcome to the World

baby giraffe
Image Credit: David Clode on Unsplash

There is no soft bed for a mother and her baby giraffe, or calf. Instead, their first moment of life starts with a straight drop to the ground from several feet above. Females have their young standing up. Luckily, calves are born hooves first, or the landing might not go well.

When a calf is about one week old, it starts eating its veggies to grow up big and strong. It devours more leaves and less of its mother’s milk by four months old. The weaning process lasts until no more than nine months after birth.

Throughout that time, one adult female looks after all the calves while the other mothers take turns eating their fill. Having a long neck comes in handy to keep an eye on mischievous little giraffes. She keeps them in an open area as they play, allowing her to spot danger before it gets close to the nearly defenseless young.

A League of Their Own

giraffe crossing road

There is one other important reason why giraffes have long necks. Their cervical vertebrae elongated well beyond the proportions of other animals. Massive back muscles grew to help hold them erect.

Initially, these animals lived in both Asia and Africa. As their environment changed, the Asian giraffes became extinct. Regions thickly populated with trees gave way to savannahs. Today, the remaining population is dwindling at an alarming rate. Destruction of their habitats and hunting by humans are the top two reasons why giraffes are classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. With help, these magnificent creatures can flourish once again.

Jill Horton
By Jill Horton

Jill is a rescue animal advocate and volunteer at Free to Live Animal Sanctuary. Her social media posts contain adoptable dogs and cats from there. Dogs Lucius and Colossus, cats Moses and Maximus, and four parakeets keep her on her toes at home. If you need help finding Jill, check her writing cave. She is likely typing away on her newest article or animal-themed children's book.