KIDS ASK: Why is a Giraffe's Neck So Long?

The abnormally long neck and legs, as well as the odd patterns on a giraffe’s body, make it one of the most bizarre-looking and unique animals on earth. A giraffe’s neck can be as long as 7 feet! That’s taller than a human! Believe it or not, a giraffe’s neck works and is structured the same as a human neck.  Both humans and giraffes have seven neck or cervical vertebrae, but each vertebrae in a giraffe can be over 10 inches long. A human vertebrae is about a tenth of that size.

So why is a giraffe's neck so long?
Some biologists believe this is because of natural selection--the giraffes that were victorious in skirmishes had longer, stronger, and thicker necks. When giraffes fight they use their heads as clubs and whip them around using the strength of their long necks. (When giraffes fight it is called “necking.")

With a giraffe’s long neck, it can acquire food more easily, especially when competing with other animals in its grassland habitat. The giraffe can graze not only on the ground, where most other herbivores feed, but also high up in the trees where shorter grazing mammals cannot reach. These feeding options protect giraffes from starvation when food is scarce, especially during a drought.

In addition to using its notorious neck for protection, a giraffe has some very lengthy and limber limbs. The only predators of giraffes are humans, lions, and crocodiles. If a giraffe encounters a dangerous predator,  those long limbs can deliver a crushing kick right before the giraffe gallops off at a gallant 30 miles an hour!