Giraffes are interesting creatures with characteristics you won’t see in many other animals. Because of their massive height, one feature that sets these creatures apart is their diets. So, what do giraffes eat?
Giraffes in the wild and captivity will eat leaves, flowers, fruit, and (very rarely) meat and old bones. What a giraffe eats differs significantly on where they live and what season it is.
Giraffes have a unique digestive system and mouth, allowing them to consume some interesting items. In this article, we will break it all down.
What do giraffes eat?
Giraffes are herbivores, meaning they only eat plant material and *never* meat. Their primary diet consists of leaves, flowers from woody plants, and fruits.
Because of their massive height and long necks, giraffes will typically eat things found growing at the tops of trees.
Giraffes spend most of their time eating or grazing (roughly 18 hours a day). They need options that are readily available and come in large quantities.
What do giraffes eat in the wild?
In the wild, giraffes enjoy a long list of vegetation, with specifics depending on what is available to them in their environment. However, most giraffes will get most of their meal from the leaves on the Acacia tree.
These leaves are plentiful and are not often a meal to other animals because of the long thorns that sit between the leaves. While these thorns are sharp and often deter other leaf-eating animals, the giraffe’s tongue is built to handle the job.
On average, a giraffe’s tongue is roughly 1 1/2 to 2 feet long and lined with thick skin and glue-like consistent saliva that protects them from the possible dangers of ingesting these plants.
Aside from the Acacia tree leaves, giraffes in the wild will also munch on:
- Euphorbia tree
- Prickly pears
What do giraffes eat in captivity?
Since it would be challenging to provide giraffes with tall trees inside a zoo’s walls, they often feed them in large leaf piles.
These leaves usually include some options available in their natural environment, while others aren’t as prevalent.
Even though the Acacia tree leaves are a favorite amongst this animal species, there is no way to offer enough of them to mimic the diet of those in the wild, so supplements are provided to giraffes in captivity to help keep them healthy; these include:
- Pellets with fiber and starch
How much do giraffes eat?
As mentioned, giraffes will spend most of their day browsing for food; this activity takes up around 75% of their time.
These animals often take small bites, grazing on edibles or chewing their cud.
A wild giraffe can eat up to 66 lb or 30 kg of vegetation daily. That said, a giraffe can make it on half that amount during dry seasons or in poor conditions.
A giraffe will devour around four percent of its body mass daily.
What is a giraffe’s favorite food?
Giraffes enjoy munching on leaves of all kinds, but the Acacia tree leaves are their favorite.
They also enjoy bush willows and mimosa. These herbivores also like to snack on seasonal fruits and grasses when available.
Wild giraffes are forced to eat the food available to them throughout the year, which doesn’t always mean it is something they like.
During dry seasons these massive mammals are often subject to eating from evergreen trees or dried leaves from dying shrubs.
Do giraffes eat meat?
As we mentioned, giraffes are herbivores, meaning their natural diet doesn’t include meat. However, this doesn’t mean they won’t eat this food source if they have no other options.
In some situations, giraffes are not provided enough vegetation to sustain them, so they have to resort to dead animal carcasses as a last resort.
They are also known to take a little nibble of a carcass out of curiosity, but they generally don’t eat the meat.
Giraffes will eat bones
Not only will giraffes eat meat when push comes to shove, but you might also see one chewing on an old bone now and then. This is especially true regarding pregnant female giraffes in the wild.
A giraffe low on phosphates and calcium will seek bones left behind from a preditor’s meal to supplement its nutritional needs.
What do baby giraffes eat?
Baby giraffes, or calves, live off their mother’s milk until they are six months old and can nurse until twelve months.
At around four to six months, young giraffes will begin to taste test leaves from low-hanging trees and shrubs, and their mothers will also provide them with food from higher sources.
The fathers are no help to baby giraffes and typically have nothing to do with their care from the moment they are born. If a mother has to leave their baby, another female will typically take care of the calf until she returns.
Giraffes have four chambers in its stomach
Similar to cows, giraffes have four stomach chambers. This makes them ruminant animals and is why they spend so much time eating.
This process means they chew their food, digest it, regurgitate it and eat it again.
Final thoughts on the diet of giraffes
Giraffes will eat almost anything that comes in plant form if need be. However, their favorite food is the leaves that grow at the top of the Acacia tree because of their availability and high protein and calcium content.
No matter where a giraffe lives, in the wild or in a zoo, they are provided with plenty of greens, fruits, and flowers, to keep them munching all day long.