Have you ever wondered what a giraffe eats? Learn what giraffes eat, how much they eat, and when they like to eat. We’ll also talk about what they are fed in zoos. And of course, we’ll talk about the diet of a baby giraffe. Plus 5 facts about the giraffe digestive system (its stomach has 4 compartments)!
What Do Giraffes Eat?
Giraffes are herbivores, meaning that their diet consists mainly of plant matter. They typically browse on trees, bushes, and shrubs, with their favorite being the leaves of the Acacia. They also eat many other plants such as mimosa, myrrh, and bush willows.
Their diet is affected by what is available at the time. During the wet/rainy season, giraffes will feed on deciduous trees, vines, and shrubs. During the dry season, when food is less readily available, giraffes will gather around the available evergreen trees. They will also snack on the occasional fruit.
When stressed, giraffes have been observed eating the bark off of branches.
How much does a giraffe eat?
An adult giraffe can eat up to 75 pounds (34 kilograms) of food per day. That sounds like a lot. But keep in mind that the average adult male weighs 2,628 pounds (1,192 kilograms), and the average female weighs 1,825 pounds (828 kilograms).
Giraffes need to eat comparatively less than other herbivores because their food is rich in nutrients. They also have effective digestive systems.
How much time does a giraffe spend eating?
Giraffes spend up to 75% of their day eating (18 hours). When they are not browsing for food and picking leaves, they are chewing their cud (more on that below).
Actual feeding is at its highest during the first and last hours of daylight, with the in-between hours being used for ruminating. Ruminating also takes place overnight, as a giraffe needs very little sleep. Eating each meal twice takes time!
Why do giraffes like eating Acacia leaves?
The leaves of the Acacia tree are high in calcium and protein, which are both needed in order to maintain a giraffe’s huge body. But this tree also has other attractive properties.
Acacia trees can grow very tall, meaning that the lanky giraffe has virtually no competition for food on its high boughs. And although the Acacia is thorny, the giraffe’s tongue is uniquely designed to be able to safely eat from it.
Are giraffes destructive when they eat?
Trees that are frequented by giraffes have been known to develop a bit of a “waistline,” but they are far less destructive than elephants. In fact, the nibbling of giraffes can produce some positive results for the tree. Just as cutting back a house plant can produce new sprouts, a tree that has been fed upon by a giraffe will produce new growth. Giraffes also help with pollination and seed distribution.
Trees also have certain measures in place to avoid over-eating. For example, some trees have a symbiotic relationship with a species of biting ants. These ants ensure that a giraffe doesn’t spend too much time browsing in the same place.
Do giraffes eat meat?
Although it is rare, if a giraffe can’t obtain the nutrients that it needs from its normal food sources, it may be forced to look elsewhere. This can happen in the dry season when plant growth is limited.
A giraffe is not a hunter, but they have been observed licking the meat off of dead carcasses.
But this action comes with risks.
Even though a giraffe’s neck is very long (6 feet/ 1.8 meters), it is too short to reach the ground. So if a giraffe wanted to reach anything on the surface, it would have to shuffle down by spreading apart its front legs.
This awkward position makes the giraffe vulnerable to attack from predators, especially lions. And if food is scarce, the predators will also be hungry.
Keep reading: Do squirrels eat meat?
Do giraffes drink water?
Yes, giraffes do drink water, but far less than you would expect. On average, an adult giraffe will drink 2 gallons (around 7.5 liters) of water per week. As mentioned above, getting their head down low enough to drink puts giraffes in a vulnerable position.
To avoid this, giraffes get most of the moisture they need from the leaves they eat. If needed, they can go for weeks without an actual drink of water.
If water is easily available, such as in a zoo setting without predators, giraffes will drink 10 gallons (38 liters) a day.
Why don’t giraffes faint when they bend over?
When a giraffe is standing upright, its heart has to work very hard to get enough blood circulating up the length of its neck to the brain. As a result, a giraffe has very high blood pressure, about 2.5 times that of a human. So you many wonder how they avoid fainting from the blood-rush to the head when they bend over for a drink.
When a giraffe bends down, the jugular vein in its neck actually locks up. This prevents the rush of blood to the head. When it straightens out its neck by lifting its head, the vein opens up again. How cool is that?
What are giraffes fed in zoos?
Giraffe care will vary from zoo to zoo, but the aim is to provide them with the same nutrients that they would get if they were eating in their natural environment.
The San Diego Zoo feeds their giraffes with fresh acacia leaves which are placed in artificial food “trees” at the proper height. They also get hay, carrots, and special biscuits.
What does a baby giraffe eat?
A newborn giraffe will suckle its mother’s milk. This occurs within the first hour of its life. That’s why they need to be so tall at birth (6 feet/ 1.8 meters)! A baby giraffe is weaned between 9 and 12 months of age.
In calves, esophageal grooves allow milk to bypass the first stomach compartment and enter straight into the second part. At around 4 months they will start to eat solid food. Their stomach will undergo changes at this time to allow them to start ruminating.
5 Facts About the Giraffe’s Digestive System
- Giraffes are ruminants: Just like cows, giraffes are ruminants. This means that they throw up their food and eat it a second time.
- They have special muscles in their neck to help them regurgitate: With such a long neck, regurgitated food has a long way to travel. To help with this, giraffes have strong oesophageal muscles to help them bring the food back up.
- A giraffe’s stomach has 4 compartments: These sections are called the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum, and the abomasum. Microbes in the rumen create fermentation. After spending time in the rumen, the food is brought back up to the mouth to be chewed as cud. After entering the second stomach, the food is passed through the rest of the digestive system
- Giraffes have 70 feet (21.3 meters) of intestines.
- Their poop comes out in the shape of pellets.
More reading: Guide to all Giraffe Types and Species and 6 Sounds Giraffes Make
Did you learn something new? Do you have more questions about giraffes? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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Hello, I’m Diane Diegor. I’m a travel and nature enthusiast. I love learning about other cultures and tasting their food.
I’m a regular contributor to Storyteller Travel.