Giraffe vertebrae facts

Written by becky salmela haase
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Introduction
  • Introduction

    Giraffe vertebrae facts

    Standing close to 20 feet tall, giraffes have long necks that allow these African natives to reach the very tops of trees for food. Yet giraffes' necks have only seven vertebrae, which is about the same number of vertebrae as most other mammals. Giraffes' long necks filled with just a few bones have caused the animal to develop some unique anatomical features.

    The giraffe's long neck make it the world's tallest animal. (giraffe image by antoine perroud from Fotolia.com)

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    About Vertebrae

    Vertebrae are the individual bones that run the length of the back. The bones support and protect the spinal cord, which sends information from the brain to nerves throughout the body. The vertebrae also connects the torso and rib cage to the hip bones.

    Individual vertebrae make up the backbone. (thorax image by Goran Bogicevic from Fotolia.com)

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    Giraffe Vertebrae

    Despite its size, a giraffe's neck has the same number of vertebrae as a human neck--seven. In fact, most mammals have this in common.

    Giraffe and most other mammals have seven vertebrae in their necks. (giraffe image by Fotocie from Fotolia.com)

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    The Unique Giraffe Neck

    Each vertebra in the giraffe's neck can be up to 10 inches long. Added together, these seven bones, along with the head, can weigh up to 272kg. In order to support this tremendous weight, giraffes have developed unique vertebrae that fit together as ball-and-socket joints. (Humans have this type of joint in our shoulders.) Human vertebrae, on the other hand, are connected in the front and back, which allows limited movement.

    The structure of giraffes' vertebrae allow their necks to move in almost any direction. (earl and giraffe image by Earl Robbins from Fotolia.com)

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    Moving Around

    In order to carry the 272kg. of their head and neck, giraffes move differently than other mammals. Their stride is a lateral movement with the legs on one side moving together. As a giraffe takes a step, its head sways back and forth so its weight is supported throughout its stride. The neck acts as its centre of gravity.

    The legs on each side of a giraffe's body move together. (giraffe image by Admirable from Fotolia.com)

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    Getting Blood to the Head

    Another consequence of its long neck involves getting blood to the head. Giraffes have a much higher blood pressure than humans--almost double--which keeps the blood pumping to its long extremity. Also, giraffes have larger hearts, which also help keep their blood flowing adequately, and special valves in their blood vessels keep their blood pressure at a proper level, even when they raise or lower their head suddenly.

    Giraffes can bend down without all of their blood rushing to their head. (Giraffe image by Nastik921 from Fotolia.com)

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