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Discovery Magazine 11/1/2008

This Longneck is No Dinosaur

When we hear the term “longneck,” an image of a massive, plant-eating dinosaur often comes to mind. Diplodocus, Brachiosaurus, and Apatosaurus all fall into this category of dinosaurs. Although these longnecks are now extinct, one impressive longneck is still around—the giraffe. Giraffes are not reptiles. They are mammals with necks longer and much heavier than the average man.

An adult male giraffe’s neck can reach lengths of six feet and weigh as much as 600 pounds. You might think that the giraffe’s neck must have many more bones (called vertebrae) than humans, since its neck is so much longer than ours. Actually, however, the giraffe has the same number of bones in its neck as humans and other mammals—seven. The difference is, each neck vertebrae of a giraffe can be 10 inches long.

More remarkable than the length and weight of a giraffe’s neck is its internal design. In order for a giraffe to get blood from its heart eight feet up to its brain, a giraffe’s heart must pump extremely hard. In fact, the blood pressure of a giraffe is about twice that of any other large mammal, and as much as three times that of the average person.

But what about when a giraffe suddenly lowers its head several feet below its heart to get a drink of water? What happens to all of the blood that the heart normally pumps upward against gravity to the brain? If the design of the giraffe were merely left up to time and chance (as evolution teaches), one would expect that the first time a giraffe tried to lower its neck to get a drink of water, the heart would pump so much blood to the brain that its blood vessels would explode, or its brain would fill up with blood so quickly that the giraffe would pass out.

So how does the giraffe keep from having brain bleeds, or keep from feeling woozy and passing out every time it bends down and raises back up? Giraffes are specially designed with valves in their large neck artery. These valves help control how much blood gets to the brain during those times when the giraffe has its head lowered.

So how did these valves come about? Who designed giraffes so masterfully? The intelligent Designer, of course. On day six of Creation, God made the longneck mammal we call a giraffe.

Did You Know…

Giraffes not only have long necks. They also have…

Long Legs.

The legs of a giraffe are about the same length as its neck—about six feet.

Long Tails.

Even though the giraffe is known more for its long neck, it also has a very long tail. In fact, it has the longest tail of any land animal living today. It can grow to be eight feet long. A giraffe uses its tail to keep flies and other insects away.

Long (Tall) Babies.

 When a baby giraffe is born, it drops about six feet straight to the ground. Normally, in less than one hour, it gets to its feet and stands six feet tall.

 

More Giraffe Facts.

*Adult male giraffes can grow to heights of 18 feet.

*Giraffes may look clumsy and slow, but when they need to, they can really run. One giraffe was clocked running a short distance at more than 30 miles per hour.

*Giraffes have big hooves (12 inches across) and a super-strong kick. Even lions normally leave adult giraffes alone. One kick from a giraffe to the head of a lion would be fatal.

Long Tongues.

A giraffe uses its 18-inch tongue to grasp twigs and strip them of leaves. A giraffe can also use its long tongue extremely well to pick leaves from in between the thorns of acacia trees.

Long Hearts.

A giraffe’s heart must be large enough to pump blood eight feet upward to its brain. Whereas the human heart is about the size of a clinched fist and weighs less than one pound, the heart of a giraffe can be two feet long and weigh more than 20 pounds.



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