How does a giraffe eat thorns?
A giraffe likes to eat the branches and leaves of the Acacia tree. The Acacia tree in Africa has thin, sharp thorns, which protect its small, oval-shaped leaves, called pinnate leaves.
To eat the Acacia leaves, a giraffe has to pick them amongst the thorns. How does the giraffe do this?
A giraffe has a narrow nose, a flexible upper lip, and a long, prehensile tongue. A prehensile tongue means that it can wrap around branches. Its tongue is about 45 centimetres (18 inches) long.
A giraffe has horny bumps on its lips and tongue that protect it from the sharp thorns. The horny bumps are called papillae.
A giraffe’s tongue wraps around the branch or twig. It holds the twig in his mouth, and strips the leaves off the branch by turning its nose and tongue.
A giraffe also has sticky, thick saliva (spit) which covers the thorns. On its bottom jaw, a giraffe has only two teeth. On its top jaw, there is a hard pad with no teeth. A giraffe grinds its food using its bottom teeth and moving them against the pad.
With all of these protective measures – the long prehensile tongue, the papillae, the pad, and the sticky saliva – a giraffe can cope easily with the thorns of the Acacia tree.
Location of photographs: Kenya
Photographer: Martina Nicolls
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