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 use their long necks to reach the very tallest leaves on trees. This gives them access to food that shorter animals can't reach. The acacia tree is their favorite meal, despite the long spikes on its branches. Giraffes get around this thorny issue by having tongues that are just as stretched as their necks. They can maneuver their tongues through the spikes to gather the leaves unharmed. So, what do Giraffes Eat? Well giraffes also munch on other trees, as well as shrubs, grasses and fruits. The average giraffe eats 65lbs of foliage every day, and needs 15lbs to survive. Baby giraffes are already six feet tall at birth, and nurse from their mothers until they are tall enough to reach leaves. In zoos, giraffes often have trees in the enclosure, but most zookeepers also leave bales of hay tied in nets to the trees. This allows them to graze naturally while ensuring they get the nutrition they need.
Giraffes are ruminants, meaning that they digest food like cows and have four stomachs. When a giraffe grabs a mouthful of leaves, it first chews them up, swallows them and then its first stomach processes them. The food that is small enough gets passed through the rest of the giraffe's system, but pieces that still have a lot of nutrients go all the way back up the giraffe's neck. The giraffe then chews these pieces, called cud, and digests them again. This process, and the rich leaves they can access, means giraffes have to eat considerably less foliage for their size than most herbivores. A giraffe will spend the day browsing, and then chew its cud while resting or on the move.
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.