Although giraffes have extremely long necks, they only have seven cervical vertebrae, which is the same number found in humans. These vertebrae are elongated, giving the giraffe its extreme height. Each vertebrae may be over 10 inches long.
Each vertebrae is connected by a ball-and-socket joint, giving the giraffe greater range of motion in the neck. This is the same type of joint that humans have in their shoulders. Giraffes average between 14 and 17 feet tall, with the neck providing approximately six feet of that height. The neck alone weighs about 600 pounds.
A long neck allows the giraffes to feed on trees that other animals cannot reach, including acacia trees, a favorite food for giraffes. Long tongues, averaging 18 inches, allow the giraffe to reach even higher for foliage. Giraffes eat up to 75 pounds of foliage and drink as much as 100 gallons of water each day.
Giraffes also use their long necks to establish dominance using a behavior called necking. Usually seen in males, necking occurs when a giraffe swings his neck to head-butt an opponent.
Its long neck gives the giraffe the necessary height to look for encroaching predators, such as lions and crocodiles. Giraffes can run approximately 35 miles per hour to escape predators and use their legs to deliver powerful kicks.