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April 21, 2014

9 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Giraffes


What do we know about giraffes? Unless you’re some sort of zoologist, your knowledge is generally limited to: They’re tall, they have black tongues, and they occasionally sell toys at Toys R Us. Well, there’s more to them than that. These graceful giants are pursued by lions, have hearts built to pump blood up a two-story building, and have some pretty curious sexual practices. But this will all be revealed to you as you examine these nine weird facts about giraffes.

9. Unless You Drive a Big Rig, They Weigh More Than Your Car

These animals are known for being extremely skinny, graceful animals, but skinny doesn’t necessarily mean light when they can get up to 20 feet tall. The average height is between 14 and 17 feet, resulting in a weigh of about 1,800 pounds for females, whereas the average mass for males is closer to 2,600 pounds. So yeah, they’re skinny, but the same way a building can be skinny.

8. They Have a Very Particular Funk

And by funk, I mean odor. While most wild animals smell a certain way due to circumstances, these guys emit an odor by design. Because they’re a little too tall to wipe parasites off their shoulders, they emit a chemical defense through their skin that contains antibiotics to keep parasites at bay. Their fur contains 11 smelly chemicals that are also suspected to serve mating functions as well, as the male odor is much stronger than the female.

7. Their Species Name Is ‘Camel Leopard’

Actually, it’s “camelepardalis” which is a marriage of both “camel” and “leopard.” And if you can’t figure out why, try looking at the animal a little harder. The more common name “giraffe” comes from the Arab word ziraafa, or zurapha, which is slightly cooler than “giraffe” in this author’s opinion.

6. You Can Tell the Sex by Looking at the Horns

Both male and female giraffes possess nubby horns atop their head, but while the females’ horns contain hair, the male horns are almost always bald, having lost their hair through combat in fighting. The males also can get calcium deposits atop their heads, also as a result of collisions with other males while fighting, giving the impression that they have up to three extra horns.

5. They Can Run. Fast.

Despite their awkward gait while walking, the strong hind legs of giraffes enables them to achieve speed bursts of up to 37 mph. However, this speed can’t be kept up for long, and often times even 30+ mph isn’t enough to keep them from their only natural predators, lions. Despite their speed and natural defense (kicking) the giraffe is fighting an uphill battle, so they often travel in packs to intimidate their predators.

4. They Can’t Swim, But They MIGHT Be Able to Float

I just included this fact for the humor value, so bear with me. One brief look at a giraffe should tell you why they aren’t really adapted to the water. Their long necks makes them a little top-heavy, and they would like just fall forward in deep water. However, Scientific American did a study and found, using computer simulations, that they could likely float. That must have been a slow editorial meeting.

“What else should we put in the next issue?”

“Wanna see if giraffes can float?”

“Absolutely.”

3. They Have a Complex Circulatory System

They have 22-pound hearts to ensure that blood can fight gravity up those long necks to make it up to their brain, but on the other hand, the possess an internal regulating system that ensures that they don’t get too much blood in their brain when they lower their heads to drink water, which is also a pretty hilarious mental image. Their necks commonly contain seven valves to regulate the flow to and from the brain depending on how high up their head is.

2. Their Pregnancies Last over a Year

The normal gestation period is between 400-460 days, allowing the baby giraffes to be born a whopping six feet tall. Of course, the female giraffes give birth standing up, which means that the newborn giraffes entry into the world begins with a six-foot tumble to the ground. One would hope that life gets a little easier from there.

1. Male Giraffes Can Get a Little Gay

While most “necking” (ramming their heads into each other) for a variety of reasons, though most often to establish dominance in finding a mate. However, they often do so to sexually stimulate each other, a practice that often leads to one male mounting another and achieving climax. In fact, 94% of all mounting incidents take place between males, and at any given time, 5% of males are engaging in this behavior. Only 1% of females exhibited this same-sex behavior.

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