Reticulated giraffe

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Reticulated giraffe
Two Giraffes.PNG
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Giraffidae
Genus: Giraffa
Species: G. reticulata
Binomial name
Giraffa reticulata
(De Winton, 1899)
Reticulated giraffe distribution.svg
Range map in red

The reticulated giraffe (Giraffa reticulata), also known as the Somali giraffe, is a species of giraffe native to the Horn of Africa. It lives in Somalia, southern Ethiopia, and northern Kenya. There are approximately 8,500 individuals living in the wild.[1] The species was described and given its binomial name by British zoologist William Edward de Winton in 1899. The reticulated giraffes and the Masai giraffes are monotypic species.

Reticulated giraffes can interbreed with other giraffe species in captivity or if they come into contact with populations of other species in the wild.

Together with the Rothschild's giraffe, it is by far the giraffe most commonly seen in zoos.[2] Its coat consists of large, polygonal, liver-colored spots outlined by a network of bright-white lines. The blocks may sometimes appear deep red and may also cover the legs. The extraordinary height of giraffes is attributed to a ritual known as "necking", where two males fight for reproduction rights by slamming their necks into one another. The giraffes with the tallest and strongest necks are victorious and allowed to reproduce, thus passing these genes on to future generations.[3]


Internal systematics of giraffes (Fennessy et al. 2016)[1]

 Giraffa giraffa

 Giraffa tippelskirchi

 Giraffa reticulata

 Giraffa camelopardalis 

The species was described and given its binomial name Giraffa reticulata by British zoologist William Edward de Winton in 1899. Morten Thrane Brünnich classified the genus Giraffa in 1772.[4]

All living giraffes were originally classified as one species by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. Once considered a subspecies of the conglomerate Giraffa camelopardalis species, recent studies in 2016 identified the reticulated giraffe as a separate monotypic species of a reorganised Giraffa genus.[1][5]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Reticulated giraffes historically occurred widely throughout Northeast Africa. Their favored habitats are savannas, woodlands, seasonal floodplains, and rainforests.

Ecology and behavior[edit]


Reticulated giraffes are herbivorous and have been recorded to feed on more than 100 species of plants, with a staple of Acacia, Commiphora, and Terminalia leaves. Giraffe have been seen eating the carcass of an antelope and chewing on dried bones for their calcium content.[6] While leaves are preferred, a giraffe will browse on many other kinds of vegetation, especially in the dry season. Giraffe food preferences change according to seasons: in the dry season, they seem to be fine with pine-like needles.[6] Giraffes feed by browsing, which typically means they eat continuously throughout the day. A male is able to eat 75 pounds of food in a single day.[7] Giraffes use their sense of smell to locate the leaves they want. They ingest everything on the branch when eating, including insects, bark, and thorns. The giraffe uses its massive tongue (up to 18 in long) to scrape off the leaves.[6] Giraffes have very tough lips to guard against scratching. While the acacia tree is their favorite, giraffes have also been known to eat mareola berries and other fruits.[7] Reticulated giraffes are ruminants, just like cattle and other ungulates, and their stomachs have four parts, with food passing through the first and water going directly to the second. The first stomach partially digests the twigs, leaves, and whatever else the giraffe has ingested whole. During the day, when the animal is not feeding, parts of this fermented mixture are brought back up from the stomach in hard lumps (eructation). Giraffes chew on these lumps, called cud, throughout the day, helping to further break the food down. Once they are done chewing on the piece of cud, it is sent to the third stomach, and finally the fourth stomach to be digested fully.[7]

Giraffes are very good at conserving water in the hot African climate. They are able to conserve and maintain their body temperature in part because of their shape; their long thin legs allow heat to release quickly.[7] The leaves they eat are actually a good source of water, and can allow them to go days without a drink.[8] Giraffes have a difficult time lowering their massive heads to the ground to drink, and this also leaves them vulnerable to predators. They are able to reach water by spreading their front legs and stretching their necks down.

Evolution of the neck[edit]

It was thought that their necks have grown this long for eating at the very top of trees. Through many studies, this thought was proven wrong. Research was conducted and proves that giraffes eat from shoulder height. They eat the leaves of the Acacia tree. These trees are really tall; therefore, the giraffe is really only able to reach the branches at shoulder height.[9] Giraffes also use this elongated body part to attract mates through a process called necking.[10] Another advantage of a long neck, though not the primary reason for the adaptation, is that they are able to see predators from far across the savanna where the shorter grazers will not be able to see over the tall brush.[11]

Being extraordinarily tall makes drinking water a much harder activity than it should be. Because of them not being able to drink water without having to spread their front legs far apart, they have adapted another way in order to not need to consume near as much water as smaller animals.

Since the long neck of a giraffe was an evolutionary adaptation, it can be concluded that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. There will always be negative affects to adaptations, but if they will overall benefit the species, those animals with the mutation have a higher chance of living longer in order to pass on the genes to their offspring.


The commonly accepted reason that giraffes have such long necks was proposed by Charles Darwin in 1871. Darwin got his idea from many African locals, who said the giraffe evolved its long neck to reach the tops of the trees, where the best leaves reside.[3] This presents a possible advantage of giraffe being the only mammal able to feed on prime leaves.

However, this theory has been challenged by Simmons. In his research, Simmons found giraffes feed mostly at shoulder level, not reaching the tops of trees at all. They only reach for the top of the tree during the rainy season. He found, in all the giraffes studied, only those in South Africa fed on leaves out of the reach of other animals. This presents a problem to the theory of long necks serving as an advantage in feeding.

An alternate theory has to do with mating rituals and sexual selection. Giraffes often find mates through a technique known as “necking”. The males stand next to each other and swing their necks wildly at the other. Whichever giraffe uses his neck and head most effectively and remains standing the longest is declared the winner and is allowed to mate with the female. Robert Simmons's hypothesis is that giraffes with the longest and strongest necks would be the most likely to win the "necking" contest.[3]

To help win over the female, the males use their ossicones on the top of their head, like a ram, and they are quite capable of breaking their opponents bones.[12]


Reticulated giraffes at Samburu National Reserve, Kenya

Once pregnant, a female giraffe has a gestation period of about 15 months and usually only has one young at a time, but can have up to eight in her lifetime.[8] Females return to the same spot each year to give birth to their young.[8] Giraffes have babies at all times during the year, but most of the births occur during the dry season.[13] When born, baby giraffes fall seven feet to the ground, since mother giraffes birth standing up.[14] Giraffe calves can weigh up to 200 pounds when they are born, and stand as tall as six feet.[14] Baby giraffes can stand up less than half an hour after being born, and are able to feed from mother’s milk. Baby giraffes will continue to feed from the milk until they are about a year old.[14] Calves can grow 9 inches during the first month, and continue to grow at an enormous rate during the first year.[6] After that, growth slows to less than an inch per year. Giraffes are very herd-oriented animals, and will even entrust the care of their young to the crowd.[13] While giraffes reach sexual maturity in captivity at around 3 – 4 years old, in the wild, males do not usually breed until they are 6 – 7 years old.[14]


Due to their formidable size and ability to spot danger, giraffes have very few predators, but are regularly preyed upon by lions and less so by crocodiles and spotted hyenas.[6] Humans are one very real threat to giraffes, although efforts are being made to help conserve them. Giraffes are killed by poachers for their hair and skin. Their very thick, sturdy hair is highly sought after for bracelets and rope. Some villages in Sudan legally serve giraffe meat.[14] Currently, about 100,000 giraffes roam Africa, although some subspecies are almost completely gone, with fewer than 100 individuals.[15] Giraffes must deal with the tsetse fly, which lands on them and sucks blood. Tsetse flies are also carriers of sleeping sickness, a dangerous disease to humans.[14] Giraffes can use their powerful tails to swat the flies and get some relief from the pests.

Giraffes have a symbiotic relationship with a few types of birds, most notably the oxpecker. These birds perch on the backs of giraffes, and alert them to possible predators. Oxpeckers also eat mites and dirt off the giraffes, keeping them clean.[6] However, the oxpecker can irritate other wounds by pecking at them, too.

Epidemics have also affected giraffes. The worst one, according to scientist Anne Dagg, was rinderpest, which killed hundreds of giraffes in the 1880s (see 1890s African rinderpest epizootic). The epidemic continued to arise in small bursts; one in the 1960s wiped out half of the giraffe population of Kenya.[6]


  1. ^ a b c Fennessy, Julian; Bidon, Tobias; Reuss, Friederike; Kumar, Vikas; Elkan, Paul; Nilsson, Maria A.; Vamberger, Melita; Fritz, Uwe; Janke, Axel (26 September 2016). "Multi-locus Analyses Reveal Four Giraffe Species Instead of One"Paid subscription required. Current Biology. 26 (18): 2543–9. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2016.07.036. PMID 27618261. 
  2. ^ ISIS (2010). Giraffa. Version 1 October 2010
  3. ^ a b c Simmons, Robert E., Scheepers, Lee (1996). "Winning by a neck: sexual selection in the evolution of giraffe" (PDF). The American Naturalist. 148 (5): 771–86. doi:10.1086/285955. JSTOR 2463405. 
  4. ^ Dagg, A. I. (1971). "Giraffa camelopardalis" (PDF). Mammalian Species. 5 (5): 1–8. doi:10.2307/3503830. JSTOR 3503830. 
  5. ^ Brown, David M.; Brenneman, Rick A.; Koepfli, Klaus-Peter; Pollinger, John P.; Milá, Borja; Georgiadis, Nicholas J.; Louis, Edward E.; Grether, Gregory F.; Jacobs, David K. (2007-01-01). "Extensive population genetic structure in the giraffe". BMC Biology. 5: 57. doi:10.1186/1741-7007-5-57. ISSN 1741-7007. PMC 2254591Freely accessible. PMID 18154651. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Dagg, Anne Innis (1976). The Giraffe: its biology, behavior, and ecology. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company ISBN 0442224311.
  7. ^ a b c d Sattler, Helen Roney (1989). Giraffes: the sentinels of the savannas. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books ISBN 068808284X.
  8. ^ a b c Markert, Jenny (2001). Giraffes. Chanhassen, MN: The Child’s World, Inc. ISBN 0895657236
  9. ^ "FAQs -". 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Society, National Geographic. "Giraffes, Giraffe Pictures, Giraffe Facts - National Geographic". 
  12. ^ Marshall, Michael. "Zoologger: How did the giraffe get its long neck?". 
  13. ^ a b Sinclair, A.R.E., Simon, A., Mduma, R., and Arcese, Peter (2000). "What determines phenology and synchrony of ungulate breeding in Serengeti?". Ecology. 81 (8): 2100. doi:10.1890/0012-9658(2000)081[2100:WDPASO]2.0.CO;2. JSTOR 177099. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f Leach, Michael (2001). Giraffe. Austin, Texas: Raintree Steck-Vaughn Company ISBN 0750234199.
  15. ^ African giraffes highly endangered: study. AFP (2007-12-22)

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