Why Do Giraffes Have Horns? Here Are Some Interesting Facts

Aashita Dhingra
Oct 12, 2023 By Aashita Dhingra
Originally Published on Oct 26, 2021
Giraffe in front Amboseli national park Kenya

The giraffe is the tallest land animal on the earth.

It can grow to 20 ft (6 m) in height just a few years after being born. The giraffe's most recognizable features are their extraordinarily long neck, long legs, horn-like ossicones, and unusual fur pattern.

They belong to the giraffidae species, along with the okapi, which is their closest living relative. They are believed to have common ancestors.

Okapis are zebra-like animals with black and white striped legs and dark, brown bodies. They are quite tall and belong to the wild savannas of Africa.

Because of their unusual look, giraffes have piqued the interest of many civilizations, both historical and contemporary, and have frequently appeared in art, novels, and cartoons. Giraffes have been wiped out completely from many sections of their natural habitat and are categorized as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Giraffes can still be found in various nature reserves, but assessments from 2016 suggest that there are only about 97,500 in the wild. In 2010, zoos housed about 1,600 giraffes.

The giraffe, along with the okapi, is one of only two extant genera in the group Giraffidae of the order Artiodactyla. The family used to be substantially larger, with over 10 ancient taxa identified.

The giraffe lineage seems to have begun with the expansion of the neck. When comparing giraffes to their ancient cousins, it appears that the vertebrae closest to the skull elongated first.

Giraffes are scattered all around Africa, like okapis, and are native animals of the continent. They are herbivorous animals and only eat vegetation.

Their long necks help them to eat leaves and fruits from tall trees, since the ground is sparsely populated with plants. In this article, we will tell you a few amazing facts about giraffes and what the purpose is of the horns attached to the skull of these creatures.

If you enjoy this article, you may also like reading why do pandas eat bamboo and why do lions have manes?

Reasons Why Giraffes Have Horns On Their Heads

There are different reasons why male and female giraffes have ossicones. The horns play different roles for baby giraffes as well. Since an ossicone is made of cartilage, it is not as strong as a bone, but it is still an important characteristic in a giraffe.

There are plenty of reasons why giraffes have horns, and ossicones are very important. Zoologists tell us to look at the horns of a giraffe to tell the genders apart.

Female giraffes have narrow horns that are angled horizontally relative to the head. A female giraffe will have more hair since females don't use their horns to fight.

On the other hand, male giraffes have much bigger ossicones that become bald on top due to repeated fights, which are referred to as necking.

Necking is a fight between male giraffes to show strength or to settle a dispute. They bang their necks against each other with great force to topple the body of their opponent, which is why male giraffe horns become bald on top.

The ossicones raise the mass of male giraffes' heads, which most often increase in size with age. The extra weight of the cartilage gives older, male giraffes an added advantage over younger giraffes because of their heavy heads, allowing them to administer heavier strikes during necking competitions.

Do all giraffes have horns?

It is a fact that all adult giraffes have horns. Whether male or female, all adult giraffes have horns, or ossicones, on their heads.

Giraffe horns, made up of ossified cartilage, are covered in skin, and are not very long in length. Horns are part of their skull and may differ in size and appearance between males and females, but every adult giraffe has horns. The only exception is baby giraffes.

Baby giraffes have horns, too. They are called calves.

Even though all giraffes are born with ossicones, they are not attached to the skull at birth. Since giraffes are mammals, just like humans, they give birth to their young ones.

The ossicones are initially not attached to the skull so mishaps don't happen during birth. Unlike humans, giraffes give birth in the wild and do so standing up. It is extremely dangerous if the mother is hurt, as predators are always nearby.

That is why horns lie flat on giraffes' heads and don't grow while they're still in their mother's womb. Since giraffe horns protrude from the head, it could be dangerous during birth for both the mother and the baby giraffe.

Due to this, nature made the best decision and let ossicones for baby giraffes grow later. As they grow older in age, ossicones fuse with their skulls and start showing on their head like little bumps.

Purpose Of Horns On A Giraffe's Head

Male giraffes use their ossicones as a very handy weapon during fighting. When they fight, they use the strength of their necks to bang against their opponent and try to shove them. Their use of horns is similar the use of horns or antlers in other species like deer or bulls.

You can't really call giraffe horns 'antlers' because they are not exactly horns. They are also covered in skin and fur.

Animals with antlers don't have skin or fur on their horns. Male and female giraffes have two very unique horns called ossicones. Normally, they are covered with hair.

Male giraffes sometimes use their horns to battle with other males. Giraffes use their heads as clubs, with the ossicones focusing the force of impact onto a tiny space.

Ossicones also give the animal's head more weight, helping it to deliver more powerful punches. The presence of nerve bundles and a significant blood supply in ossicones has prompted some researchers to believe that the structures are also involved in thermoregulation. This theory is not proven, but it is very likely.

The horns are mostly used by males for the purpose of fighting and as a way to showcase their strength and valor. It is understood that a giraffe has won many battles if its ossicones are balder.

How many ossicones does a giraffe have?

Giraffes normally have two horns on their head. The two horns are actually ossified cartilage and not bone. They are very strong and protrude from the heads of giraffes. They are very frequently called horns by mistake because they look like small horns.

These horn-like structures on the heads of giraffes are very different from the normal horns that other animals have. Most horned animals have bony horns, so the definition of horns does not fit the giraffe's ossicones.

The actual horns of animals like stags are made of a bone core with a lining of keratin on the outer covering. The cartilage in a giraffe's ossicones is not any less strong.

It is not soft cartilage like the ones humans have. The cartilage in a giraffe's ossicone is tough, hard, and strong. This cartilage is used by males in fights.

While necking, giraffes use their full force and concentrate all their strength to give their opponent a blow with their ossicones. The structures are very steady and are no less than horns when it comes to toughness.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for why do giraffes have horns, then why not take a look at why do giraffes have long necks or Masai giraffe facts?

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Written by Aashita Dhingra

Bachelors in Business Administration

Aashita Dhingra picture

Aashita DhingraBachelors in Business Administration

Based in Lucknow, India, Aashita is a skilled content creator with experience crafting study guides for high school-aged kids. Her education includes a degree in Business Administration from St. Mary's Convent Inter College, which she leverages to bring a unique perspective to her work. Aashita's passion for writing and education is evident in her ability to craft engaging content.

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