A Giraffe’s Tongue: Its Surprising Color and Other Cool Facts

A giraffe’s tongue is dark in color, but why?

Table of Contents

Giraffes don’t moo; neither do they roar. Scientists considered them to be non-vocal at one point. However, new research suggests that they hum through their days. Since giraffes won’t talk about their cool features, let’s unearth a few facts about giraffes ourselves. We’ll start with the giraffe’s tongue.

What color is a giraffe’s tongue?

If you have seen those videos of giraffes looting food from unsuspecting tourists during safaris, you might have also noticed that the color of a giraffe’s tongue is black or purple. But if you could inspect further, you would find that only the front of the tongue is dark, while the rest is pink. With their long necks, giraffes reach for foliage high up in trees. Naturally, this exposes the giraffe’s tongue to sunlight. As a result, their tongues may get a sunburn. The pigment melanin gives the tongue this deeper color. Melanin protects the tongue from the damage that sunlight can cause.


Giraffes are huge. As a result, they need to eat a lot of leaves. They spend almost 12 hours each day feasting on leaves.

Giraffe_Tongue
A quick treat is always welcome. Credit: Wikimedia/Marcus Quigmire

How long is a giraffe's tongue?

Each giraffe has a tongue over half a meter in length! To be exact, their tongues can reach a length of 22 inches. A longer tongue allows them to munch on leaves at the tops of tall trees like acacia. In comparison, the average human tongue is just 3 inches long.


Due to their long legs and neck, giraffes can reach the topmost leaves of acacia trees. The tongue provides a few extra inches to reach that foliage. As a result, a giraffe rarely faces much competition for food. When they do face competition, it is probably another hungry giraffe.

Giraffe_(head)
That’s a pretty long tongue! Giraffes use their long tongue to feed on acacia leaves. Credit: Wikimedia/Postdlf

Giraffes have prehensile tongues

Imagine if you were able to use your tongue to hold something like your fingers do. It would be cool, right? Giraffes have a prehensile tongue that allows them to wrap their tongues around leaves before tearing the leaves off to munch on them. In addition, giraffes have prehensile lips, too. These agile body parts are similar to how monkeys have prehensile tails that they wrap around branches.

 

The smooth control that giraffes have over their tongue comes from superb muscular control. The same is seen in okapis

Giraffe_sticking_out_tongue
A giraffe has a prehensile tongue to grab leaves. Credit: Wikimedia/Bilby

Do giraffes use their tongue as cotton swabs?

A giraffe has such a long tongue, they can clean their ears with it! And, the nose of a giraffe is even closer to a giraffe’s tongue. Since they clean their ears with their tongue, they don’t shy away from picking their nose, either. Let’s take a moment to voice our thoughts—GROSS.

Giraffe's_tongue
Desperate needs, desperate measures. Giraffes clean their noses and ears using their long tongue. Credit: Wikimedia/Irina Polikanova

Giraffes eat thorny foliage

Giraffes love to munch on acacia leaves. But acacia have a fair share of not-very-inviting thorns. “Meh” the giraffe might hum before making a quick feast out of these trees. First, the giraffe grabs less thorny areas of the acacia tree with their prehensile tongue. Secondly, they have thick taste buds on their tongues that offer protection from spines. Lastly, they have thick saliva, rich in antiseptic properties. Not only does the saliva protect the tongue, but also heals the tongue in case of a cut.

Acacia_horrida_-_Robber-thorn_Tree_at_Theni.
Acacia don’t seem like an inviting treat, unless you are a giraffe. Credit: Wikimedia/Vinayaraj

Apart from their interesting tongues, there are other cool features. For instance, did you know that the giraffe has the longest tail in the world of animals? Or that they sleep standing up?

These gentle giants of Africa are cool. Watch a giraffe loot food here

Glossary

Foliage: leaves


Sunburn: A burn on the skin caused by excessive exposure to sunlight


Pigment: Chemicals in our body that give color


Melanin: A skin pigment that decides the color of skin and hair. Melanin also protects skin and hair from sunlight


Prehensile: When any organ is used to grab something, that organ is called prehensile


Acacia: A tall thorny tree that grows in the desert. Edible gums are made using acacia sap.


Taste buds: Bumps on the tongue that help in tasting food


Antiseptic: A substance that prevents infection

Reading Ease: 72.5


Grade: 5.9

Contributors

  • Anubhav Ghosh
    : Author
    I am pursuing my bachelor's in microbiology from Scottish Church College, Kolkata and the lab at my college is as close as my home is to me. My interest lies in molecular biology and cell signalling, and I want to be a professor when I grow up. I believe that what we see around has a fantastic science story in it. In my free time, I love to watch soccer. Writing for Smore Science gives me the chance to explore my take on explaining the science around me in ways that everyone can grasp.

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