20 Things You Might Not Know About Giraffes

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You know they're tall—the tallest mammals in the world, in fact—but here are 20 other fun facts about these leggy herbivores.

1. Over short distances, giraffes can run at speeds up to 35 mph.

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2. Giraffes only need to drink water once every couple of days. They get most of their water from their plant-based diet—which is good considering their height makes the process of drinking difficult (and, if a lion happens upon a drinking giraffe, even dangerous).

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3. Female giraffes often return to where they were born to give birth. Once there, their calves receive a rough welcome into the world, falling over five feet to the ground.

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4. Fortunately, baby giraffes can stand up and even run within a hour of being born.

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5. Giraffes' tongues can be up to 20 inches long and are darkly colored, which is thought to help protect them during frequent sun-exposure.

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6. Giraffes usually stay upright while sleeping and if they do settle into a vulnerable position on the ground, it's just for a quick six-minute nap.

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7. Giraffes have hair-covered horns called ossicones—but only males use them (for fighting each other).

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8. Giraffes require over 75 pounds of food a day—and with a diet of leaves, this means they spend most of their time eating.

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9. The giraffe's scientific name, Giraffa camelopardalis, comes from the ancient Greeks' belief that it looked like a camel wearing a leopard's coat.

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10. Despite their characteristic long necks, giraffes actually have the same number of neck vertebrae as humans—just seven. Each individual vertebra is super-sized, measuring up to ten inches long.

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11. Because of their unusual shape, giraffes have a highly-specialized cardiovascular system that starts with an enormous heart. It's two feet long and weighs up to 25 pounds.

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12. Additionally, the jugular veins contain a series of one-way valves that prevent excess blood flow to the brain when the giraffe lowers its head to drink.

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13. Male giraffes engage in a ritualized display of dominance called "necking" that involves head-butting each other's bodies.

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14. Unlike horses and most other quadrupeds, giraffes walk by moving both legs on the same side of their body together. So, the left front and the left hind legs step and then the right front and the right hind legs step.

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15. Although they're more likely to run from an attack than fight back, giraffes are not completely defenseless. A swift kick from one of their long legs can do serious damage to—or even kill—an unlucky lion.

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16. Male giraffes will test a female's fertility by tasting her urine. Which is something now you can't un-know.

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17. June 21, 2014 will be the first ever World Giraffe Day

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18. The first giraffe to make its way to Europe was brought there by Julius Caesar from Alexandria in 46 B.C. as part of a triumphant return to Rome after years of civil war. 

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19. Some 1500 years later, Lorenzo de' Medici was gifted a giraffe by the sultan of Egypt. Giraffes had not been seen in Italy since antiquity and it caused quite the sensation, wandering the streets of Florence and accepting treats offered out of second-story windows.

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20. Giants first baseman Brandon Belt is affectionately known as the "Baby Giraffe," so naturally, when a baby giraffe was born at the San Francisco Zoo, it was named Brandon Belt. When the two met, it was predictably adorable.

All images courtesy of Thinkstock.

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April 22, 2014 - 11:40am
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