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9 Giraffe Tongue Facts: Color, Length, 4 Features

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Have you ever wondered why a giraffe’s tongue is purple? Here we’ll discuss the answer to that question, along with other neat facts about giraffe tongues. For example, did you know that male giraffes use their tongue when selecting a mate (here’s a heads-up, it involves tasting their urine)?

giraffe tongue facts

Keep reading to find out everything that you need to know (and more) about the giraffe tongue.

1. How long is a giraffe’s tongue?

A giraffe’s tongue can reach lengths of 22 inches! That’s more than half a meter!

The range is 17.7 to 21.7 inches (45 to 55 centimeters). By comparison, the average human tongue is about 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) long. That is one long tongue!

what color is a giraffe tongue

2. Giraffes have prehensile tongues

The giraffe’s prehensile tongue allows it to grasp and pull leaves into its mouth, much like an elephant would use its trunk to feed. Another example that you may be familiar with is the prehensile tail of a monkey, which allows it to hang upside-down from tree branches.

Giraffes also have prehensile lips.

What does it mean to have a prehensile tongue? Prehensile means that an organ or appendage has the ability to grasp, seize, or take hold of something, usually by wrapping around it. This is because of fine-tuned muscular control.

giraffe tongue purple and pink

3. What color is a giraffe’s tongue?

The color of a giraffe’s tongue can be described as black, blue, or purple. But if you look closely, you will notice that only the front half of the tongue has this dark coloring.

The back of the tongue (that doesn’t exit the mouth as often) is more of a pink color.

4. Why do giraffes have purple tongues?

The dark portion is high in melanin, which is a pigment that helps protect against sun exposure. So it is thought that the blue/purple/black color of the giraffe’s tongue helps prevent it from becoming sunburned. Because, who wants to eat with a sunburned tongue?

Being the size that they are, giraffes must eat a lot of food. Mostly they eat leaves out of tall trees, like the acacia tree. Eating these leaves involves sticking out their tongue – a lot. In fact, giraffes may spend up to 12 hours a day eating.

giraffe eating acacia leaves with tongue

More reading: What sound does giraffe make?

5. What protects a giraffe’s tongue when eating from thorny trees?

One of the giraffe’s favorite trees to munch on is the Senegalia and Vachellia (formerly Acacia tree). This tree is covered with sharp thorns.

There are a few different things that can help a giraffe to avoid injuring its tongue while eating.

  • The prehensile nature of the tongue itself allows the giraffe to control where it goes, making it easier to grab the leaves and avoid the thorns.
  • A giraffe’s tongue has thickened papillae (the rough bumps on the top and side that contain taste buds), which offer additional protection.
  • Giraffes have thick saliva, which provides their mouths and tongues with a protective coating layer. This saliva also has antiseptic properties, so if the tongue gets cut the saliva will help it to heal quicker.
giraffe tongue acacia leaves

6. What advantage does the giraffe’s tongue give it?

Acacia leaves are delicious, but hard to access. As mentioned above, the prehensile design of the giraffe’s tongue allows it to eat the leaves that other animals can’t.

The height of the giraffe allows it to reach to tallest branches. Its long tongue adds another 20 inches (50.8 centimeters) to that height.

These advantages mean that the giraffe has no competition for food – except for other hungry giraffes.

giraffe sticking out tongue

Read more: What Do Giraffes Eat?

7. Can giraffes clean out their ears with their tongue?

Yes, giraffe tongues are so long that they can actually clean out their own ears using their tongue! You may find this to be cool, fascinating, or somewhat disgusting.

They can also use their tongue to pick their nose – as shown in the video below.

8. Do giraffes taste urine?

While we’re on the topic of things that you may find disgusting- here’s another one.

In order to find out if a female is in heat, a male giraffe will rub his head against her backside until she pees. He will then lick the urine, as she is peeing, to detect if there are any hormones present which indicate if she is ovulating.

If she is, he’ll begin stalking her, hoping that another male doesn’t come along and interfere with his plans.

do giraffes have purple tongues

Like baby animals? You’ll love this guide to baby giraffes.

9. Why do giraffes stick out their tongue?

There are many reasons why a giraffe may stick out its tongue. For one, it helps a giraffe to obtain food.

Its tongue can also be used in cleaning out its nose and ears.

And it can help a male giraffe to find a prospective mate (by tasting her urine).

facts about giraffe tongues

More reading: Guide to Giraffe Species (How Many Types Are There?)

Your Turn

What giraffe tongue fact did you find the most interesting? Please join the discussion in the comments below.

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