Giraffes are the tallest animals on land and probably some of the strangest looking. They live on the savanna and lightly-wooded regions of Africa, grazing on trees and shrubs at their leisure.
They grow to be up to 20 feet tall and weigh 2500 pounds, meaning they are too big for any predator to go after. However, any animal that big needs a lot of food. If a giraffe ate and digested its food like a normal animal, it would never be able to survive. Thankfully, giraffes were given unique and useful traits to support themselves. Read on to learn how they can reach the most nutritious foods on the savanna, and then digest those foods multiple times to power their massive frames.
What do Giraffes Eat?
Giraffes reach the highest leaves on trees with their long necks. This allows them to reach food that shorter animals cannot. Despite the long spikes on its branches, the acacia tree is their favorite food. Giraffes get around this conundrum by having tongues that are as long as their necks. They can get their tongues through the spikes and collect the leaves without getting hurt. So, what exactly do Giraffes eat? Giraffes eat other trees, as well as shrubs, grasses, and fruits. The average giraffe consumes 65 pounds of foliage per day and requires 15 pounds to survive. At birth, baby giraffes are six feet tall and nurse from their mothers until they are tall enough to reach leaves. Giraffes frequently have trees in their enclosures in zoos, but most zookeepers also leave bales of hay tied in nets to the trees. This allows them to graze naturally while still getting the nutrition they require.
Giraffes are ruminants, which means they digest food in the same way that cows do and have four stomachs. When a giraffe grabs a mouthful of leaves, it chews them up, swallows them, and then processes them in its first stomach. Food that is small enough is passed through the rest of the giraffe’s system, but larger pieces with a lot of nutrients are passed all the way back up the giraffe’s neck. The giraffe then chews these cud pieces and digests them again. Giraffes have to eat significantly less foliage for their size than most herbivores due to this process and the rich leaves they can access. A giraffe will spend the day browsing before chewing its cud while resting or moving.
How do Giraffes Drink?
Giraffes, like their relative the camel, can go a long time without drinking water. This is partially biological and also because acacia leaves have such high water content. But giraffes do have to drink eventually, and you may look at such a tall animal and wonder how, exactly, they manage to reach the water. Giraffes, just like us, only have seven spinal vertebrae in their neck.
This means they can’t just bend their long necks down to get a drink, they have to splay out their front legs and stoop to get their heads that low. Giraffes are usually safe from predators, but having their head at a level vulnerable to crocodiles and lions can be dangerous. Because of this, they usually drink in small groups, with one bending down for water while the rest keep guard. They take turns and then wait another few days before drinking again. In a safe environment like a zoo, giraffes drink up to 10 gallons of water per day. Their reliance on water is the only chink in their armor, a testament to the magnificent evolutionary oddity that is the giraffe.