Giraffe Definition | Characteristics & Facts


Giraffe Definition

A giraffe is a tall, long-necked mammal with distinctive spots on its coat. It is known for being the tallest land animal, with a long neck and legs that enable it to reach high vegetation.

Giraffe General Characteristics & Facts


Male Giraffes have heights of up to 18 feet (5.5 meters). Females Giraffes have reached around 14 feet (4.3 meters). They have long necks, long legs, and distinctive coat patterns consisting of brown spots on a lighter background. Each giraffe’s coat pattern is unique, similar to human fingerprints.


Giraffes are found in various habitats across Africa, including savannas, grasslands, woodlands, and open plains. They can adapt to different environments and are often seen near acacia trees, which provide them with food and shade.

Social Structure

Belong to social animals and live in loose herds. These herds can consist of females and their calves, while males tend to be more solitary. Giraffes have a fission-fusion social structure, meaning herds may come together and then separate, forming temporary associations with other giraffes.

Feeding Behavior

Giraffes are herbivores that primarily feed on trees and shrubs’ leaves and buds. They have long, agile tongues and a specialized mouth that allows them to strip leaves from branches, even from thorny acacia trees. Their height and long necks give them an advantage in reaching foliage inaccessible to other herbivores.

Sleep and Rest

Giraffes have relatively short sleep cycles and can sleep while standing or lying down. They often sleep for only a few minutes at a time, totaling about 2 hours per day. They also rest by assuming a “sternal recumbent” position, where they kneel with their necks resting on their bodies.


Female giraffes, called cows, give birth to a single calf after a gestation period of around 15 months. Calves are born while the mother is standing, resulting in a drop of about 6 feet (1.8 meters) to the ground. The calf can stand and walk within an hour of birth, and it remains under the care of its mother for several months.


Giraffes communicate using various vocalizations, such as snorts, moans, and hisses. They also communicate through body language, including necking, a behavior where males engage in combat by swinging their necks at each other.

Conservation Status

Conservation efforts focus on protecting their habitats, implementing anti-poaching measures, and promoting sustainable land use practices.

Unique Circulatory System

Giraffes have a unique circulatory system to pump blood up to their brains despite the long distance from their hearts. Their hearts are powerful, and they have a network of blood vessels and valves in their necks to regulate blood flow and prevent excessive blood pressure.


Giraffes have a lifespan of around 20 to 25 years in the wild, although some individuals may live longer in captivity.

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Giraffe Physical Characteristics

  1. Height: Heights of up to 18 feet (5.5 meters) and adult females reaching around 14 feet (4.3 meters).
  2. Neck: Measure up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) in length. Despite having seven vertebrae, the same number as most mammals, each neck bone is elongated, allowing for flexibility and the ability to reach high branches for food.
  3. Coat and Coloration: The coat of a giraffe is characterized by large brown spots or patches on a lighter background.
  4. Legs: Giraffes have long and powerful legs, with the front legs being slightly longer than the hind legs. Their legs are well-suited for running, and they can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour (56 kilometers per hour) in short bursts.
  5. Head and Antlers: Giraffes have small head in proportion to their body size. They have large, expressive eyes and a prehensile tongue that can measure up to 18 inches (45 centimeters) long. Contrary to popular belief, giraffes do not have antlers.
  6. Ears: Giraffes have relatively large ears that can measure up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) in length. Their ears are crucial for detecting sounds, communicating with other giraffes, and maintaining awareness of their surroundings.
  7. Tail: Giraffes have a long, tufted tail that can measure up to 8 feet (2.4 meters) in length. The tail serves as a fly swatter, helping to ward off insects and pests.
  8. Size and Weight: Adult giraffes can weigh anywhere between 1,800 and 3,000 pounds (800 to 1,400 kilograms), with males generally being heavier than females.

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Scientific Classification of Giraffe

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Artiodactyla

Family: Giraffidae

Genus: Giraffa

Species: Giraffa

Key Locations of Giraffe

  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
  • Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
  • Kruger National Park, South Africa
  • Etosha National Park, Namibia
  • Chobe National Park, Botswana
  • Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
  • Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda
  • Okavango Delta, Botswana
  • Samburu National Reserve, Kenya

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What does Giraffe eat the Most?

Leaves, twigs, and buds from acacia trees

How tall can a giraffe grow?

Giraffes can grow up to 18 feet (5.5 meters) in height, with males generally being taller than females.

Why do giraffes have long necks?

Giraffes have long necks primarily to reach high, leafy vegetation in their habitat. Their long necks allow them to browse on treetops that other herbivores cannot reach.

How long is a giraffe’s tongue?

A giraffe’s tongue can measure up to 18 inches (45 centimeters) in length. It is long and prehensile, allowing them to wrap it around leaves and pull them into their mouths.

Do giraffes sleep standing up?

Yes, they can sleep both standing up and lying down. They typically sleep in short, intermittent periods, and they can even sleep with their eyes open.

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