Answering the Question: What do Giraffes Eat?
By no stretch of the imagination is a meal for this tall creature down to earth; anyone who has ever asked the question, “what do giraffes eat?” must realize that their food must be quite, well, lofty. The long legs, the long neck and balanced body style are all designed to harvest those areas to which most other animals have no access.
The family of Giraffidae is a very small group, consisting of only two species; the giraffe and the okapi. Their scientific name, giraffa camelopardis, means “fast walking camel leopard”; a description that is apt if somewhat comical. The original ancestors of this strange and unique looking animal appeared on the scene over ten million years ago in central Asia, although the earliest fossil finds place the giraffe in Africa and Israel as recently as a little over 1 million years ago.
Giraffes have the distinction of being the tallest animal on earth. Females can reach an astounding 16 feet in height, while their male counterparts tower over them at a height of up to 19 feet. In fact, this creature has many traits that place them at the top of a variety of lists, including:
- They are the heaviest land animals, topping out at over 4,000 lbs.
- They have the longest neck of all land animals
- Giraffes possess the longest tail of any land animal; in some cases, reaching around 8 feet in length.
Horns are prominently displayed on the foreheads of both the males and female giraffes and are present from birth, although the “antlers” become larger on the males as they mature. Their heads are small as compared to the rest of their bodies, resembling that of a camel. They bring food to their mouth using their tongue, which is typically around 1 ½ feet long. The tongue emerges to curl around grasses or branches, holding it steady while the head pulls back, effectively stripping the foliage and placing it in the animal’s mouth. Giraffes are ruminants, which are cud chewing animals. Like the common cow, they possess stomachs that have multiple chambers; enabling them to partially chew food, swallow and then regurgitate the food for further digestion. They are herbivores; providing a general and basic answer to the question “what do giraffes eat?”
The habitat of the giraffe includes the grasslands, savannahs and woodlands that range from Central Africa to South Africa. These areas feature a grassy ground layer and an upper layer of woody plants which provide plenty of food sources for the giraffe. Their preference on a feeding arena is an area that is dominated by acacia, but they willingly move to other sources when this favorite is unavailable. Males will most frequently feed from the highest branches of trees, while the females will bend their necks to feed from the ground. One aspect that dictates their choice of food is the season. Giraffes eat foliage of evergreens when their habitat endures the dry season, and then switch to the stems and leaves that are profusely produced by deciduous trees during the rainy season.
Giraffes that are kept in captivity such as zoo animals have a far different and varied menu plan. These animals often feast upon alfalfa hay, fruits and vegetables such as bananas, carrots and apples and alfalfa pellets. Often, they can be seen grazing in the treetops nearby; elm trees rate high in their preferred foliage.
Answering the question of “what do giraffes eat” is actually a simple task. Herbivores eat plant matter, and giraffes stand proudly within this group that enjoy a vegetarian lifestyle.