Giraffes are the tallest land animals on the planet, with necks that can reach 1.8 meters in length and tongues that are proportionately large. A giraffe’s tongue is a marvel of nature’s engineering and a fascinating thing for a variety of reasons.
Here are some interesting facts about giraffe tongues.
1. They are more than half a meter long
Adult giraffe tongues are about half a meter long, measuring between 45 and 55 cm. Their long tongues allow them to get extra reach for those super-high acacia leaves, as well as dexterously wrap their tongues around branches to strip leaves while avoiding the thorns.
2. They are prehensile
A prehensile tongue, similar to a monkey’s prehensile tail, refers to the owner’s ability to grasp objects and exert fine-tuned muscular control over it. Giraffes use their prehensile tongues to grasp and pull leaves into their mouths, much like a hand or an elephant’s trunk.
They also have prehensile lips that work in tandem with their prehensile tongues to assist in stripping leaves from trees and navigating around thorns.
3. They’re an unusual color
The color of a giraffe tongue can range from black to grey to purple depending on the lighting. If you examine a protruding giraffe tongue closely, you will notice that only the last 20 cm or so are this dark color, and the rest is a more expected pinkish color.
The dark color of a giraffe’s tongue is caused by a density of melanin color pigments, and while there is no scientific reason for this unusual tongue coloration, many believe that the melanin provides extra UV protection to prevent sunburn. Given that giraffes can feed for 12 hours a day with their tongues sticking out and exposed to the sun, this theory makes sense.
4. They have additional safeguards
If a thorn does get into a giraffe’s mouth, its tongue has evolved to provide additional protection.
Giraffes secrete sticky, thick saliva that coats any thorns that make it past their leathery lips and mouths, in addition to their protective leathery lips and mouths. If the tongue is cut, this special saliva contains antiseptic properties that allow it to heal quickly and without becoming infected.
Share this page