Giraffe Evolution

Giraffe Evolution

Giraffe Evolution and Ancestors

While the giraffe as we know it is native to Africa, more than 20 million years ago they also roamed along Europe and Asia. There aren’t very many fossils of the early giraffes but enough information for scientists to come up with some theories that they believe are parallel to what occurred for them in regards to evolution.

These early giraffes likely looked like deer and were much shorter than what we know of them today. What is widely debated is how they ended up with the extremely long necks of today’s giraffes. There are a couple of ideas that circulate about that which you may be interested in. Many believe it occurred slowly, over plenty of time due to the trees in the areas where they lived getting taller. This process took place to allow them a way to continue feeding from them.

This is known as the Lamarck Theory and it was introduced in the early 1800s. It is possible that the food on the ground was scarce and that these animals were instinctively raising their necks as high up as they could in order to reach what was there. Maybe they observed other animals including elephants doing so. Over time, the size of those necks was longer and longer to allow them this adaptation and survival method.

Charles Darwin has another theory about survival of the fittest. He believes that some of the giraffes had a genetic mutation that allowed them to develop longer necks. These individuals where able to eat more and so they were stronger. That means those males were the ones breeding and that genetic pattern was passed down to others. Those that couldn’t get enough to eat weren’t strong enough to be able to mate with the females and they eventually died without passing along their own genetic materials.

Another theory is that the necks of males grew longer in order to help them be more different from the females. However, that created problems when it was time for mating to occur so eventually the necks of the females were also getting longer due to genetic factors. However, most researchers have found this idea to be one that they can’t prove and that they aren’t really willing to accept on theory alone.

More recently, a new theory came along that offers us a new angle to look at. Instead of the necks growing dramatically for them to feed, perhaps it was their legs that were able to give them the additional height required. It could have been a combination of both of them as they evolved too which helped them to be able to carry their body weight around as they do.

The most amazing thing about the evolution of giraffes is that their internal anatomy was able to be modified as well to take care of these changes. In order to help with that long neck they had to develop strong shoulders and muscles. They had to develop a complex and fascinating heart and cardiovascular system so that the blood wouldn’t rush to their brains as they bent to drink.

Perhaps one day we will have many more answers about giraffe evolution. That way we can know with certainty what their past was and how they have come to be the amazing creatures that we known and admire today. New technology and new fossils are discovered all the time out there so we will just have to wait and see. In the meantime though it can be fun to explore the different theories and to discuss what your own thoughts about it all are.