Picture of the Day – Those Bendy-Necked Giraffes

In the last post I observed that the horrendously awkward drinking stance of Giraffes isn’t due to neck inflexibility but rather proportionally very long legs. When drinking, Giraffes appear to hold their necks at around the same angle as those of other ungulates (to be on alert for predators?) and I managed to photograph one individual bending its neck down at a more extreme angle for no clear reason. Giraffe necks are most certainly not rigid beams which can barely flex downward from the familiar browsing posture, and the contortions they can achieve are astonishing.

Masai Giraffe (_Giraffa tippelskirchi_) at Roger Williams Park Zoo.

For an animal with seven elongate neck vertebrae, this is a pretty impressive arc. It also makes me wonder if autogrooming is an overlooked behavior in extinct long-necked animals – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a reconstructed sauropod engaging in such behavior.

Masai Giraffe (_Giraffa tippelskirchi_) at Roger Williams Park Zoo.

The sharp bend in this Giraffe’s neck is truly ridiculous – a better angle of the same posture shows just how sudden and extreme it is. Are Giraffes seriously capable of a 90 degree bend between two cervical vertebrae? I’m fairly certain I did not observe the absolute extremes of Giraffe flexibility and I’m curious just what their limits are.

I must point to SV-POW!’s dissection of a baby Giraffe neck which revealed nearly one fifth of the length was from cartilage. Adults are presumably less extreme than this, but still, wow.

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