If you’ve ever visited a zoo, chances are that you have laid your eyes upon the towering giraffe. Taking the title as the world’s tallest mammal, these animals are usually loved by the public.
With such unique features, it’s no wonder that they make a spectacle. But why do they have such long necks? And what exactly does a giraffe eat, both in the wild and in captivity?
WHAT DO GIRAFFES EAT?
The giraffe is a herbivore, meaning that it only feeds on different types of plants. They are also referred to as browsers, choosing to eat from food that is higher up such as tall trees. Giraffes mainly eat the flowers, twigs, and leaves off of trees and shrubs such as Acacia, apricot and mimosa trees. They can also be seen occasionally consuming fruits and grasses.
These animals are recognized for their lengthy necks, two horn-like structures on the top of their heads called ossicones, and a speckling of uniquely patterned spots over the majority of their bodies.
Measuring around 4 to 6 meters, giraffes are able to reach their favorite meals.
WHAT DO GIRAFFES EAT IN THE WILD?
There are an estimated 100,000 giraffes found in the world. You’ve probably heard the giraffe described as a safari animal. This is because they can only be found naturally on the continent of Africa.
There are four giraffe species currently known, each of which inhabits a different geographic region. This can alter their diet or foraging ranges.
The Reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata) is one of the better-known species of giraffe. They are most commonly recognized for their reticulated or divided, spots that take on a darker red hue.
These animals can be found near the Horn of Africa. There are about 8,500 wild existing individuals.
This species of giraffe is seen in a wide variety of habitats across the northeastern parts of Africa. Because of this, they are known to eat an expansive collection of plants, over 100 in fact.
Their favorite leaves tend to be off of Acacia, Almond and Myrrh trees. They will also eat twigs, bark, shoots, fruits, and seeds.
Another species of giraffe, the Masai giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchi), is a bit different from the Reticulated giraffe in relation to their pattern.
Instead of having a pattern that is more rounded, the spot edges are more jagged or ripped. They are also a darker shade of tan or brown. This species takes refuge near Kenya and Tanzania.
The Masai giraffe has experienced a drastic shift in their habitat. In fact, these animals used to live all over Africa, but now their range is limited to the dryer areas.
They almost entirely thrive off of the leaves, twigs, flowers, and bark of Acacia trees. African explorers have also documented these animals eating fruit on occasion.
You may have noticed a commonality between both of these African species. Giraffes sure love their Acacia, whether if it’s in the form of twigs, flowers, bark or leaves.
But, one fact about Acacia is that they are covered in thorns. So how does a giraffe forage through this prickly plant?
WHAT DO GIRAFFES EAT IN AFRICA?
You may picture Africa as being a desolate savanna with hardly any trees, but that is not always the case. Just as anywhere else, there are a variety of habitats, each of which the giraffe must find enough food to survive.
What do giraffes eat in the savanna?
The savanna can be described as an area with grassy plains and a few scattered trees. Individuals found among the tropical savannas of Africa will roam until they find Baobab, Candelabra, and Whistling thorn trees.
Once striking gold, these browsers will consume the shoots, bark, leaves, flowers, and buds off of these plants.
What do giraffes eat in the grasslands?
You might be thinking that the African savannas and grasslands are the same thing. It’s true that they do overlap though there are a few differences. As the name suggests, it is overrun with grasses while savannas contain more shrubs.
Grass species most commonly consumed by giraffes in these regions are Napier and Elephant grass. Unlike the savanna, this biome contains more of a giraffe’s favorite meal.
The beloved Acacia trees are an abundant grassland species with plenty of leaves, bark, fruits, flowers, and shoots to eat.
What do giraffes eat in the woodlands?
If you’re a giraffe, you might want to live in a place that is blanketed with trees. Well, that is exactly what the woodlands are. The Miombo woodlands, in particular, extend across south-central Africa, Angola, and Tanzania in a belt-like range.
There are a large variety of shrubs and trees, including the Biombo trees that can reach 20 meters in height. Once again, giraffes will survive off of leaves, fruits, flowers, bark and buds associated with these trees.
WHAT DO GIRAFFES EAT DURING DIFFERENT SEASONS?
These herbivores are found throughout Africa where food is not always available. Giraffes are known to adapt to the various seasons.
The savanna is known for being arid. When dry seasons hit, giraffes will migrate large distances in search for food. They will also expand their diet to other types of vegetation such as grasses and plants with needles instead of leaves.
Evergreen trees tend to also be a favorite meal during this season to avoid fatigue as they contain more nutrients.
When rain is abundant, so is the vegetation. Even Africa has wet seasons, allowing for plant restoration. Giraffes during this time will focus their foraging efforts on gaining as much energy as they can.
The fruits, twigs, and leaves of deciduous plants meet this requirement.
You may already know that Africa has a winter season, but did you know that this is the warmest time of the year? Accompanied by chilly mornings and nights, this makes it challenging for wildlife to survive.
To keep their energy lifted, giraffes will consume a different spikey plant, the Prickly pear. The leaves are rich with nutrients, making it a favorable winter meal.
WHAT DO GIRAFFES EAT IN CAPTIVITY?
Not everyone is able to travel to Africa to see these amazing giants. That’s why zoos have made African wildlife, such as the giraffe, a staple.
The need for giraffe ambassadors has become even more prevalent since their wild relatives are on the decline. There are about 2,000 individuals found in zoos today, each of which has to be given the proper nutrition.
Educating the public on what these animals would eat in the wild is paramount. To replicate this experience, most zoos feed their giraffes Acacia leaves.
Next time you go to the zoo, you might notice a few piles of forage that is hung. This is to mimic the tall trees found in the wild.
In addition to Acacia foliage, captive giraffes are often fed nutrient-rich foods including carrots, hay, grain, and fruits. There are even specialized pellets that contain the correct amount of starch and fiber to make for the healthiest animals.
Individuals found in zoos have been known to live longer than their wild counterparts at about 28 years on average. With the challenges of varying seasons and predation, wild giraffes tend to survive a total of 20 to 25 years.
HOW MUCH WILL A GIRAFFE EAT IN A DAY?
Regardless of their living circumstances, giraffes spend the majority of their day eating. On average, a single giraffe will eat about 35 kilograms of plant material in a day. When you consider how light a leaf is, you can imagine how long it might take to reach that weight in foliage.
With such a large body mass, it is no wonder that these animals have to constantly eat. If they didn’t spend the majority of their day foraging, then they would not have the energy to escape potential predators.
WHAT DO BABY GIRAFFES EAT?
Being born in Africa, giraffes have to watch out for a number of threats. The survival of the young is dependent on how quickly they can walk.
Once a baby giraffe is born, it relies upon the milk of its mother to become strong. And although a newborn giraffe measures almost 2 meters in height, they cannot reach the leaves off of a tree.
It takes about six months for a baby giraffe to begin reaching these plants. Until then, the mother will pull foliage down for the infant.
A fun fact about baby giraffes is their ability to run with the herd merely 10 hours after birth. This is critical in escaping predators.
HOW DO GIRAFFES EAT?
Those iconic large trees that you find in the African savanna and grasslands are not quite the most desired by browsing wildlife, but the giraffe is well equipped for this plant.
The Acacia tree thorns held among the leaves can grow up to 7 centimeters in length. The giraffe uses a variety of tricks to get past them.
Most animals in Africa are unable to get to Acacia in the first place. This is due to the fact that they can reach a staggering 5.5 meters in height for this tree, perfect for the giraffe. This means that they don’t have to compete for food.
Long, Purple Tongue
Have you ever witnessed a giraffe foraging? You may have noticed the length of their tongue. These animals are long in every aspect of the word with a tongue that is around 46 centimeters.
This tongue is not only dexterous but thickly lined to ward off the potential pricks of Acacia thorns. Giraffes are also equipped with a leathery mouth for added protection.
Another observation you may have made while watching a captive giraffe eat is that their tongues are a dark black or blue color.
A fun tongue fact is that these animals use the color of their tongue to protect themselves from sunburns as they use this body part to forage throughout the day.
One unusual adaptation that giraffes possess is their saliva. To prevent any injuries or wounds, these animals have saliva that is the same consistency of glue. Coating their mouth in this healing agent is key to eating on the unforgiving Acacia, especially with all of those thorns.
Do giraffes eat cactus?
Giraffes are more than able to consume a number of plants that have thorns, but what about cacti? It turns out the Prickly pear is a member of the cactus family, Cactaceae.
How do giraffes drink water?
With such a long neck, you would think that reaching down would be easy. It’s actually the opposite. The only way that a giraffe can drink is to spread their legs out and slightly kneel so that they can drink from a watering hole.
While drinking, they are vulnerable to lurking predators. Fortunately, these animals only have to drink every couple of days. Eating plants will temporarily replenish a giraffe so that it doesn’t have to take as many risks.
Who are giraffes related to?
Grouped together under the family Giraffidae, giraffes share a common relative to cows and deer. This species is the Okapi, an endangered tropical inhabitant that lives in central Africa.
It shares a similar body shape with horn-like appendages on the top of its head. This animal also has stripes on its legs, though it is the only other living member to belong to the family Giraffidae.
What predators do giraffes have?
Being such a large animal can put you at a disadvantage, especially when on the African continent where predators rule the plains. The lion is the most frequent threat as they hunt in groups.
It is unlikely for them to hunt down an adult, but younger individuals are often sought out. Other predators include hyenas and leopards. Adult giraffes are able to protect themselves through the use of their strong back legs and broad hooves.
Why the spots?
There are a couple of theories as to why these long-necked animals have spots in the first place. Some think that it is to help them blend in amongst the trees and shrubbery.
Another theory is that it keeps them cooler. Lighter coloration helps to reflect sunlight, which prevents overheating.
Do giraffes have the same spots?
If you were to compare the spots of one giraffe to another, you’d see a difference, even if they were the same species. They may look similar at first, but each pattern is unique. They act as a human fingerprint, separating them apart from each other.
Giraffes are known for their long necks and towering legs, making them a sight to see at zoos across the globe. They use these physical characteristics to help forage for food.
Being herbivores, the giraffe browses among mostly trees and shrubs to eat a variety of leaves, fruits, flowers, shoots, bark, and sometimes even grass.
They may not be on the top of the food chain, but these hooved skyscrapers stand alone in their ability to eat taller African trees such as their favorite, the Acacia. So the next time you visit the zoo, imagine what it would be like to see them out in the wild on the savanna.