One of the most iconic animals in the world, the giraffe is loved by many the world over. And for good reason.

They are equal parts beautiful as they are comical looking. This has led to them becoming one of the most marketable animals on earth.

What is the Giraffe?

The giraffe is the tallest animal on earth and one of the largest on the African plains.

There are nine subspecies found across sub-Saharan Africa, all of which are admired for their size and beauty.

Twin giraffes
Giraffes in a twin pose, observing the camera man | (@juzervajihee)

Appearance

What does the giraffe look like?

Giraffes are lanky and slender. Their gait is a pace, which means legs on the same side move together.

All the subspecies’ boast purple-blue tongues, stubby horn-like protrusions on their heads and of course, outrageously long necks.

Each subspecies boasts a slightly varied pattern, perfectly designed to blend in with their habitat. What they all have in common is a beautiful spotted coat, with a pattern unique to each individual – just like human fingerprints. Coat patterns are even used to identify specific individuals during wildlife studies.

Young giraffe standing at attention
Young giraffe standing at attention | @adozenandonephotography

They have very pronounced lips and no teeth on the front, upper jaw. Instead they have a hardened dental pad that allows them greater control while pulling leaves from tree branches. They also have incredibly long tongues. These are purple-blue in colour and grow to an impressive half a meter long!

Both genders have what appear to be horns atop their heads. These are actually nothing more than cartilage protrusions, covered with skin and hair.

Their main purpose is to protect the head from injury. These ‘horns’ are more pronounced in males as they’re used in territorial fights. They also tend to be bald on top – an easy way to distinguish between genders. Yet another similarity with humans!

Giraffe selfie
Female giraffe coming in for a closer look at the camera | Keith Ladzinski (@ladzinski)

How tall is the giraffe?

Giraffes vary in size according to geographic location. In east Africa, adult males can grow to more than 18 feet (5.5 meters) tall, while females usually max out at about 14 feet (4.5 meters). Southern African subspecies are usually slightly smaller. A giraffe will reach its maximum height at just 4 years old.

Mature bulls are very heavy and can weight over two tonnes, while females tend to max out at just over one ton. Despite reaching full height at fours years old, they continue to fill out, and will grow until around seven years old.

Giraffe interaction at Giraffe Manor, Kenya | @iamofficialskye

How long is a giraffes neck?

The giraffe’s most distinguishing feature is its unusually long neck. In fully grown adults, the neck can contribute to more than 7ft. (2 meters) of the animal’s overall height.

In order to be able to drink without losing consciousness, the giraffe’s neck contains special veins and valves that regulate the flow of blood to its head.

Male giraffes use their necks to fight one another, and those with the longer neck generally have an advantage. It is thought that females also find longer necks more attractive.

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