Imagine being able to peer into a second-story window without needing to stand on your tiptoes. Welcome to a giraffe’s life. As the tallest creature in the animal kingdom, the giraffe has a view that can’t be beat.
The giraffe’s long neck can reach more than 7 feet in length, which means it makes up nearly half of its overall height. Just like humans, giraffes have seven vertebrae in their necks, but theirs — unlike ours — can each be over 10 inches long. There are a couple of theories about why giraffes have such long necks. Some scientists believe it’s simply a matter of natural selection. Giraffes fight by beating each other with their heads and necks. This is called “necking.”
Male giraffes whip their necks around, using their heavy skulls like clubs. The longer and thicker the neck, the more likely a giraffe is to win a fight. Giraffes that are successful in fights are more likely to breed and produce offspring.
Others believe long necks are a result of competition for food. Giraffes share their habitat with lots of other animals — a lot of shorter animals. These shorter creatures also need to eat, snacking on plants and foliage at a height that may not even reach giraffes’ knees.
Since these shorter creatures pick over food at a lower level, giraffes’ necks allow them to reach food and nutrients that others cannot. This becomes especially important for survival in habitats where food can become scarce and droughts are fairly common. Giraffes can feed close to the ground, too, but research has shown that they prefer to eat at heights between 7 and 14 feet.
Some people suggest giraffes’ long necks are a sort of early warning system, allowing them to spot approaching predators. Most biologists say this theory is not likely, though. They suspect we would see many more animals with long necks if this were a real advantage and useful form of self-protection.
Giraffes have very few predators. Besides humans, giraffes are hunted only by lions and crocodiles. When necessary, giraffes defend themselves with a very powerful (and deadly) kick, and then make a run for it at speeds up to 30 miles per hour.