The Descent of Giraffe

The birth of a new life, for most of us, is a wonderful thing. For the newborn, it is the first glimpse of our bright, brave new world. What adventures have we set in store? What beauty will we see? A multitude of possibilities are ahead. For a baby giraffe, however, birth must be an incredibly harrowing time. For more than a year, the little giraffe would have been peacefully gestating, growing to an impressive 1.8 meters tall. On the day of its birth, however, it probably didn’t expect to plummet six whole feet (the length of its mothers legs) to the dusty ground.

Of course, it must do this. Giraffe’s legs are this long – along with its supermodel neck – to reach the juicy young Acacia leaves on which they feed. The giraffe’s neck is an elegant example of evolution co-opting existing traits for new functions, rather than evolving new features from scratch. Giraffe’s are believed to have evolved from an antelope-like creature called Climacoceras. They, along with modern giraffes and humans, have 7 cervical vertebrae. Rather than evolve extra vertebrae to grow its neck, evolution simply expanded the size of each vertebrae. Much easier. The only problem is for the babies being born half a storey in the air. They must think it’s a right pain in the neck.