Today I found out male giraffes take a mouthful of the female’s urine to determine if she’d be a good mate.
This is known as the “Flehmen sequence”, where the male giraffe will approach the female and then rub against her backside until she pees. When/if she does, he’ll taste it to tell whether she’s in heat or not. If she is, he will then proceed to stalk her, with the female sometimes continually walking or running away from him. During this time, he will attempt to keep other males away from the female as he pursues her, which is often the point of the female’s rejection, trying to see if she can get a better male to become interested in her and fight off the current male.
When fighting over a female, the giraffes will establish dominance via high or low intensity “necking”. The low intensity version of necking involves pressing their necks against one another until one gets tired and gives up. In high intensity necking, they’ll swing their heads and necks at each other trying to land blows on the other giraffe. This type of fighting can last as much as a half hour before one will concede the match. With either type of “fighting”, very rarely is serious damage done. Further, the one with the longer neck almost always wins.
Somewhat bizarrely, at least from a Darwinian perspective, after a necking battle, the males will often caress one another with their necks (which is sometimes misinterpreted as fighting) and then have sex with each other, including reaching climax. In fact, it’s estimated that 75% to 94% of the time male giraffes have sex, it is with another male giraffe. Although much more rare, female giraffes also occasionally get in on the one gender lovin’ with about 1% of female giraffe sexual encounters occurring between two females, rather than a male/female pairing.
When male and female giraffes do pair up, females tend to prefer older males, usually at least over seven years old, even though the males become mature just four or five years after being born. In contrast, the males tend to prefer the younger females, with these females also becoming sexually mature around four years old.
If the female is particularly interested in a certain male, she may even pursue him, rubbing her neck against him to try to get him to rub her rump so she can pee in his mouth. In these cases, she will rarely play hard to get and usually will let him mount fairly quickly if her urine is to his liking.
Once the female stands still long enough to allow the male to mount, coitus is extremely brief, lasting only a few seconds at most, once again proving it’s not the size of the neck, but how you use it.
Bonus Giraffe Facts:
- The first giraffe brought to Rome was brought there by Julius Caesar in 46 BC.
- Unlike most mammals, giraffes need very little sleep, only 30 minutes to 4 hours per 24 hour cycle, often taking very quick “cat” naps. They are capable of sleeping standing up, but usually are found sleeping lying down.
- The gestation period for giraffes is about 400-460 days.
- Adult giraffes usually range between 16 ft. to 20 ft. (5-6 meters), with about 6-7 ft. (2 meters) coming from their neck. They also typically weigh between 1500 lb. to 4000 lb. (680 kg – 1,800 kg). In both cases, the females tend to be on the lower end of those spectrums and the males on the higher end.
- A giraffe’s long neck doesn’t actually contain that many vertebrae; they have the same number as humans (7). Unlike humans, the vertebrae are quite big at around 11 inches (28 cm) tall.
- Giraffes’ tongues can be as long as 20 inches (50 cm).
- The giraffes’ heart is about 2 ft. long (61 cm) and weighs about 25 lb. (11 kg). In order to get adequate blood flow throughout their body, their heart must maintain about double a typical human’s blood pressure. There’s also the potential problem of blood pooling in their heads when they bend their necks down to the ground. In order to get around this problem, their upper neck has a rete mirabile that stops an excessive amount of blood flow to the brain. They also have several valves in their jugular vein to prevent back-flow in certain positions. Their average heart rate when standing around is also fairly high compared to humans, at about 150 beats per minute.
- Giraffes have gray skin that is extremely thick. In fact, it’s so thick that giraffes can walk through a thorny bush with nary a puncture.
- Giraffe fur has some fairly unique properties including containing a cocktail of parasitic repellents that are extremely stinky to humans, but none-the-less very practical in the wild.
- Adult giraffes eat about 75 lb. – 140 lb. (34 kg – 63 kg) of food per day, usually leaves, grass, shrubs, fruit, and the like. They’ve also been observed to lick meat off of dead animals.
- If they are getting an adequate amount of foliage, giraffes need not drink water for months at a time, getting the majority of the water they need from what they eat.
- Newborn giraffes weigh about 150 lb. (68 kg) and have about a 6 ft. drop to the ground when they are born. Within a few hours, they’re able to begin walking and even running around. At this point, their height is, not surprisingly (so they can reach their mother’s teats), about 6 ft tall.
- Full grown giraffes can run in short spurts as fast as 35-40 mph (56-64 km/h). They also can maintain about 30 mph (48 km/h) for a few miles.
- Giraffes are able to completely close their nostrils, which is handy during sandstorms, as well as to keep bugs from crawling in.
- The name “Giraffe” comes from the Arabic “zarafa”, meaning “fast walker”, which in turn gave rise to a variety of spellings for the name of giraffe in Middle English, French, Italian, etc. The current English word showed up around the 17th century and comes not from some of the Middle English words for “Giraffe”, but rather from the French “giraffa”.
- There are nine sub-species of giraffe, with a current total world population of about 80,000 giraffes. However, it should be noted that there are as little as a few hundred of certain of the sub-species left.
- Giraffes have few natural predators, primarily just lions and crocodiles (who sometimes can manage to grab a giraffe’s head or neck when it reaches down to drink water). Giraffes are usually a match for lions, but a pride of lions can take one down, though it is a dangerous affair. Giraffes are capable of shattering the skull of a lion with one kick, not to mention what that kick will do to the other parts of the lion’s body if it is landed.
- While full grown giraffes have few predators, reaching adulthood in the wild is a difficult affair with only about 25%-50% of giraffes successfully surviving to adulthood.
- House cats also commonly exhibit a Flehmen response by opening their mouths and baring their teeth while panting. You may have observed your cat doing this when smelling a particularly odoriferous scent. This allows them to draw the particular scent into their Vomeronasal organ at the roof of their mouth. I always assumed my cats did this to avoid smelling something particularly smelly!
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