What do giraffes eat? The diet of the tallest animal on Earth

Young giraffe eating some delicious acacia leaves for breakfast

Giraffes are fascinating creatures. As the tallest animals in the world, they reach an impressive height of six meters. As you can imagine, this makes the daily habit of eating rather tricky.

Luckily for giraffes, their unique height gives them access to certain foods – without having to compete with other land animals. Giraffes are herbivores, and their favorite food is the acacia tree. However, their eating habits are not as clear cut.

Here are some fascinating facts about giraffe eating habits.

Reasons for the Giraffe Diet

Lone male giraffe extends its neck to reach the leaves from a tall tree, in the Serengeti

Before diving into what a giraffe eats, it’s helpful to understand its biological structure. Their unique biology has great influence on their diet. There are plenty of interesting facts about giraffes, but here are a few related to a giraffe’s eating habits.

  • Giraffes have an impressive tongue that reaches up to 50 centimeters in length. Even more impressive, these tongues are rough in texture. This texture also serves as sun protection when licking treetops (but more on that later).
  • Giraffes don’t have any upper front teeth. Instead, they use their bottom teeth to comb the leaves off of trees.
  • As the tallest animals on Earth, giraffes are limited in the plants that are within reach of their mouths (which are far from the ground).
  • Their amazing height and manner of eating make giraffes an important part of the circle of life by serving as pollinators for various plants.

Different Types of Giraffe Food

Giraffes are browsers and herbivores. This means that they eat vegetation off of the ground, and follow a strictly plant-based diet. While their long necks limit them in many ways, their length also provides easy access to a variety of treetop nutrition.

Giraffes eat a combination of leaves, seeds, buds, and branches – and sometimes even grass. Their favorite trees to snack on are acacia and mimosa trees. The tall animals eat these plants as they are easy to reach.

How Does a Giraffe Eat?

Fun picture of a giraffe sticking its tongue out, Kruger, South Africa

Perhaps the most fascinating part about how a giraffe eats is their various physical adaptations that make it possible – in particular, their tongue.

As giraffes are limited in food choices, their body has had to adapt in various ways. Acacia trees, which are one of the giraffe’s first dietary choices, are full of long, sharp thorns. This is where the giraffe’s hardy tongue plays a crucial role.

As a prehensile muscular organ, a giraffe has refined control over its actions, and this makes a huge difference when eating. A giraffe’s tongue can reach up to 50 cm in length, allowing it to reach the juiciest leaves and twigs.

Black or purple in colour, the giraffe’s tongue is also high in melanin. The pigment acts as natural sunscreen, which is especially useful when the slimy muscle is overly exposed to the elements.

This adaption, in conjunction with the lack of upper front teeth, means that a giraffe can reach out to leaves and tear them off of the twig. They then rub the plants on the lump of tough tissue in the place of upper front teeth.

How Much Does a Giraffe Eat?

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of plant-matter to provide energy for an animal the size of a giraffe (they can weigh a whopping 1200 kg).

To fuel its daily activities, a giraffe can eat up to 34 kilograms of food each day. However, they only need to eat about 15 kilograms per day to survive.

In fact, giraffes spend the majority of their daily routine eating, munching on a few leaves at a time. Considering that their snack of choice is the thorny acacia tree, it’s no wonder that giraffes choose to take their time chewing.

How Do Giraffes Drink?

Giraffe bending over to drink from a waterhole

While eating is fairly easy for giraffes, drinking poses a different problem. Their extra-long necks present an interesting challenge when dipping down to hydrate themselves.

Rather than bending their necks to the watering hole, giraffes splay their legs and bend their knees to reach the water. Luckily for the giraffe, this amusing activity is only needed every few days.

The primary reason that giraffes don’t need to drink as much as other animals (and humans), has a direct correlation with the plants they ingest. The tall trees that fill the bellies of giraffes have deep roots and hydrate the animals while they munch.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Giraffe Diet

If you’re looking for a few quick answers about a giraffe’s diet, these frequently asked questions will help.

What trees do giraffes eat?

Giraffe eating acacia leaves, Crescent Island, Naivasha

Giraffes typically eat leaves from acacia trees, mimosa trees, and wild apricot trees. The most iconic tree in a giraffe’s diet is the acacia tree.

There are over 1,300 species of acacia trees and they grow abundantly on the African plains. Giraffes share these trees with various bird species, navigating around thorns to eat the twigs and leaves.

Do giraffes eat leaves?

Yes, giraffes do eat leaves. The majority of their hydration comes from leaves they eat off of the acacia and mimosa trees.

Do giraffes eat grass?

Giraffes will occasionally feed on grass to supplement their diet, that predominantly consists of acacia leaves

It’s interesting to note that although giraffes can eat grass, they typically avoid doing so.

This isn’t only because it’s uncomfortable to bend down and reach the floor, but also because they become vulnerable to lion predation when stooped down.

Have You Seen a Giraffe Eat?

“Well as giraffes say, you don’t get no leaves unless you stick your neck out.” – Sid Waddell

With their long, black tongues and impressively elongated necks, it’s amazing to see how the giraffe’s diet fits its physique. Giraffes are fascinating creatures, and if you’re lucky enough to see them in the wild you should treasure every moment.

They have beautifully adapted to eat and drink in ways that work with their bodies, and watching them eat is quite majestic.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.