Would you want to be a veterinarian tasked with treating a giraffe with a sore throat? Yikes! That must be a big pain. Can you imagine how long it must take giraffe moms to knit scarves for their children before winter sets in?
Maybe that’s why so many giraffes live in warm areas. Avoiding colds and sore throats must be a priority when your neck is so long. And, speaking of long necks, do you think giraffes have tongues that are as long as their necks?
Even though a typical giraffe neck can stretch as long as six feet, the giraffe’s tongue usually measures 18-20 inches long. Why does a giraffe need such a long tongue? If you liked to eat acacia tree leaves like giraffes do, then you would understand.
The acacia tree’s tasty leaves are protected by very sharp thorns. The giraffe’s long tongue allows it to reach the highest, tastiest leaves while avoiding the sharp thorns. Its tongue also features a thick, tough layer that protects it from being cut by the thorns. If a giraffe’s tongue does get cut by a thorn, its extra-thick saliva has antiseptic properties that help it to heal quickly.
As far as the dark color of the giraffe’s tongue, some experts believe it serves a good purpose. Since giraffes spend up to 12 hours each day eating, the tongue’s dark color might protect it from exposure to the Sun’s harmful rays, thereby preventing sunburn!
You may be WONDERing why giraffes don’t simply choose another tree’s leaves to eat. The tastiest acacia leaves often grow high on the tree, which puts them within a giraffe’s reach but away from the reach of many other animals. Thus, giraffes have less competition for acacia leaves.
Acacia leaves are also an important source of water. Since acacia leaves have high moisture content, eating up to 75 pounds of acacia leaves in a day provides giraffes with much of the water they need to survive. In fact, giraffes can go days without drinking if they have plenty of acacia leaves to eat.
This is important, since drinking water from a river or lake is a very dangerous thing for a giraffe. When a giraffe drinks, it must spread its legs wide and lower its head all the way to the ground. This position leaves it quite vulnerable to predators, so most giraffes prefer to get as much of their water as possible from acacia leaves.