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giraffe,African ruminant mammal, genus Giraffa, living in open savanna S of the Sahara. Giraffes have historically been considered to be one species, G. camelopardalis, with a number of subspecies, but DNA study now suggests that there are in fact four giraffe species, the southern giraffe, the Masai giraffe, the reticulated giraffe, and the northern giraffe, and that the southern and northern giraffes have subspecies. The tallest of animals, giraffes browse in treetops at heights inaccessible to other leaf-eaters. A male may be 18 ft (5.5 m) from hoof to crown. The neck, which is up to 7 ft (2.1 m) long, has only seven vertebrae, the usual number in mammals, but each is very elongated. The legs are also long and end in large hooves; the body is relatively short. The short hornlike ossicones are formed of ossified cartilage and covered with skin and hair. Giraffes have large, sandy to chestnut, angular spots closely spaced on a lighter background. They feed chiefly on leaves of acacia and mimosa, using their extensible tongues and mobile lips to secure food. Giraffes travel in small herds whose membership typically readily changes; females can form long-lasting relationship with each other. They can outrun most of their enemies and have been known to kill lions with a kick. They are most vulnerable when spreading their forelegs and lowering their heads to drink; however, they can do without water for long intervals. They are among the very few mammals that cannot swim at all. Females bear a single calf, which is about 6 ft (180 cm) tall at birth. The only other member of the giraffe family is the okapiokapi
, nocturnal ruminant mammal, Okapia johnstoni, of the giraffe family. It inhabits the almost sunless rain forests of the upper Congo and feeds on leaves. Its shape is reminiscent of a giraffe's, but it is smaller, with a much shorter neck.
..... Click the link for more information. . Giraffes are classified in the phylum ChordataChordata
, phylum of animals having a notochord, or dorsal stiffening rod, as the chief internal skeletal support at some stage of their development. Most chordates are vertebrates (animals with backbones), but the phylum also includes some small marine invertebrate animals.
..... Click the link for more information. , subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Giraffidae.
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Giraffa camelopardalis. An artiodactyl mammal in the family Giraffidae characterized by extreme elongation of the neck vertebrae, and two prominent horns on the head.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
tallest of animals. [Zoology: NCE, 1088]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
a large ruminant mammal, Giraffa camelopardalis, inhabiting savannas of tropical Africa: the tallest mammal, with very long legs and neck and a colouring of regular reddish-brown patches on a beige ground: family Giraffidae
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005