Not only are giraffes the animal with the longest neck but they also have one of the longest tongues. What is so interesting about a giraffe’s tongue?
Although giraffes include grasses as part of their diet, leaves from the Acacia tree are the “plat du jour” for them. These thorny trees are host to the leafy treats that every giraffe is after. Nutritious and succulent, as well as a great source of water.
If you insist on eating from the Acacia tree, you’ve got to have the right equipment. Of the wild animals in Africa it is only the giraffe that has the tongue that is going to be able to match up against this foliage.
Why Is The Tongue So Long?
The average length of an adult giraffe’s tongue is 18-20 inches (45-51 cm). That is some length!
There are a few reasons why the tongue is as long as it is with the most important one being the muscle that feeds them. The tongue is prehensile which is from the Latin word, “prehendre”, meaning “to grasp”. We see this same feature in chameleons, frogs, and anteaters.
The giraffe has fine-tuned muscular control over this organ and is able to exercise full control over how to seek out the best of the vegetation. It will stretch out its tongue and wrap it around a mouthful of leaves and tear them away.
Most other animals use their teeth to bite off their food but giraffes rely on the use of their tongues.
The Tongue Doubles Up As An Earbud Too
Sticking your tongue in your ear is only a wild and dodgy imagination for some, but for giraffes there is nothing odd about it at all. They are generally very well-groomed animals and cleaning out their ears is part of the routine. The only way they can manage this is to use the tool that they have been given, and they do just that.
As gross as this may sound to you and I, giraffes are also known to stick that tongue up their nostrils. Part of the grooming process I would imagine?
Since they feed on Acacia leaves, they absorb vast quantities of liquid and therefore only have to drink water every couple of days or so. As with other animals the tongue is also used for this purpose.
What’s With The Strange Colour?
Giraffes spend an average of 18 hours a day eating. Obviously for the majority of this feeding binge the sun is up and where they live, the sun is on at full blast. What does the sun have to do with eating leaves?
If they are feeding for that amount of time and they use their tongues, it means that they are exposing it the suns rays for substantial periods of time.
Scientists and zoologists conclude that the dark blue/purple pigmentation of the tongue serves to protect it from sunburn. I think this is quite a reasonable conclusion to arrive at. The underside of the tongue is a lighter pink with the part which gets the most exposure is much darker.
A Thorn In The Flesh – The Antiseptic
There is an antiseptic in the saliva which coats the thorns that giraffes ingest. They aren’t particular about separating the wheat from the chaff. What would otherwise be potentially very harmful to the giraffe is now rendered a-toxic.
The antiseptic qualities inherent in the saliva therefore fight off infection and the thorns will even pass through the digestive tract and come out intact.
The tongue is a very clean muscle and it isn’t unusual to see giraffes taking tit-bits offered by humans from their lips.
Take A Lick Of This
The males are frequently seen jostling for their position as the dominant male and necking is part of the ritual. After any form of rivalry between two males there is a period of courting and they will often use their tongues to perform a preening session on one another.
There are so many other interesting features and characteristics about giraffes that will be included in this blog. If there are other interesting and unusual facts about giraffes that you have seen or read about, please leave a comment below. I’d really like to hear from you.