Today is World Giraffe Day! The celebration of the long-necked animal falls on the longest day or night of the year, depending where you are on the planet. It was started four years ago by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) to celebrate giraffes and raise awareness of the challenges they’re facing.
There’s more to these bizarrely elegant animals than height, spots and a long neck – here are some things you may not know about giraffes:
- The bumps on the head of a giraffe are called ossicones. They’re horns covered in hair and both male and female animals have them, although only the males use them for fighting.
- Until last year, it was thought that only one species of giraffe existed: Giraffa camelopardalis (supposedly named after the Romans’ description of the animal as a cross between a leopard and a camel). It’s now accepted that there are actually four species: the northen giraffe, the southern giraffe, the Masai giraffe and the reticulated giraffe.
- The tongue of a giraffe can be as long as half a metre (20 inches), and the dark blue colour is thought to protect it from the harsh sun.
- Female giraffes give birth while standing up, meaning their calves have a fair way to fall, entering the world with a bump.
- Giraffes can go for days without drinking, as they get most of the water they need from eating leaves and don’t sweat.
- As well as not drinking much, giraffes don’t waste much time on sleep. They take very short naps of a few seconds or minutes (as sleeping makes them vulnerable), and total about two hours a day. Most sleep is done standing up, but if they do lie down they use their own rump as a pillow.
- A giraffe’s blood has a long way to travel from the heart up to the head. High blood pressure and one-way valves along the blood vessels in the neck prevent blood from flowing back down in between heartbeats. A compact network of veins and arteries at the base of the skull (called the rete mirabile) regulate the flow of blood into the brain when a giraffe bends down to drink.
- As well as being the tallest animal, the giraffe takes home the prize for the longest tail of all the land mammals – it can grow to 2.4 metres (eight feet) in length.
- The giraffe’s closest relative is the elusive okapi, a mammal found only in a corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Further up the family tree, they’re group in the even-toed ungulates which includes deer, sheep, camels, llamas, hippos, buffalos and pigs.
- Long legs mean that a giraffe’s casual walk still comes in at around 16 kilometres (10 miles) an hour. If they need to move faster, their gallop can get them to speeds of up to 56 kilometres (35 miles) an hour that’s faster than most horses.
Go to GCF’s website if you want to find out more about what’s been going on today.