How Did Giraffes Get Long Necks?

Posted: Oct 8 2015, 10:13pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News


How Giraffes Got Long Necks?
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The evolutionary transformation took place in various stages, a new study reveals.

The long iconic neck of the giraffe is the one of the most discussed topics among scientists and several evolutionary theories are proposed to explain the evolution of this elongated giraffe neck.

A new study of cervical vertebrate reveals that the evolutionary transformation of the giraffe’s long neck took place in several stages as one of the neck bones first stretched towards the head and then to its tail.

"It's interesting to note that that the lengthening was not consistent," said Nikos Solounias, a giraffe anatomy expert and paleontologist at NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine. "First, only the front portion of the C3 vertebra lengthened in one group of species. The second stage was the elongation of the back portion of the C3 neck vertebra. The modern giraffe is the only species that underwent both stages, which is why it has a remarkably long neck.”

There is a popular notion that giraffes adapted long neck to outcompete short-necked herbivores and to find more vegetation. To understand how the giraffe neck changed over the time, researchers compared the fossil neck bones of modern giraffes with those of their relatives and their ancestors. A total of 71 fossils of 9 extinct and 2 living species of giraffes were examined. The fossil bones were discovered in late 1800 to early 1900 and were kept in different parts of the world.

Researchers found that two extinct genus of giraffe artiodactyl showed moderate cervical lengthening; indicating that the elongation started even giraffe family was evolved.

“The primitive giraffe already started off with a slightly elongated neck,” said Melinda Danowitz, co-author of the study. “The lengthening started before the giraffe family was even created 16 million years ago.”

The first stage of transformation began around 7 million years ago when cranial end of the vertebra of the species known as Samotherium stretched. The second stage of elongation on the back started around one million year ago. Today, the C3 vertebra of common giraffe is nine times longer than its width.

The only other living member of the giraffe family, Okapi, found in central Africa, surprisingly continued to shorten over the years. It is one of the four species that placed on a different evolutionary pathway due to secondarily shortened neck.

The study was published in RSOS.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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