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20 Things You Might Not Know About Giraffes

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Thinkstock

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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Animals
25 Shelter Dogs Who Made It Big
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Focus Features

If you’ve been thinking of adding a four-legged friend to your brood and are deciding whether a shelter dog is right for you, consider this: Some of history’s most amazing pooches—from four-legged movie stars to heroic rescue dogs—were found in animal shelters. In honor of Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month, here are 25 shelter dogs who made it big.

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This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
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iStock

Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

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