Do Giraffes have a bluish-purple tongue?

Teaching kindergarten students alphabets is all about A for Apple, B for Ball and similarly G for Giraffe. The question that comes up is we all are so familiar with this animal but do we actually know them well? An interesting fact about Giraffes that cannot be missed is, Giraffes have a dark bluish-purple tongue. Have you ever been lucky to be licked by the bluish-purple tongue of a Giraffe? Do you think there can be any scientific reason behind this colouration of the tongue? Yes, indeed, everything in this world can be traced for its biological roots. Let’s find out.

Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis)  are crowned the tallest mammals with their legs and necks adding all the magic to their height.  Giraffes are about 14-16 feet tall or about 5m tall. We can not even imagine the legs of this tallest animal are longer than the complete height of human beings. Giraffes have a light tan colour with lots of coloured patches on the skin. These patches are further of various colours like brown, reddish-brown etc. Biologically, these patches are an adaptation of thermoregulation. Primarily feeding on Acacia species, these animals were majorly confined to the African continent. However, nowadays, zoos play a major role in providing a homely environment to this beautiful animal as a mode of ex-situ conservation. 

The tongue of Giraffes:

Not only their legs and necks are long enough to catch some attention, but their tongues are also characteristically long (about 50 cm) and even flexible. The tongue of Giraffes has a beautiful dark bluish-purple colour. Particularly, the distal part of the tongue (20 cm) is seen to be pigmented. Thus, this pigmentation was prominently seen on the rostral part of the tongue and that too more on the ventral side. The pigmentation is sometimes referred to as a black colour. The posterior portion of the tongue is often seen to be more pinkish in colour.

Giraffes have a bluish-purple tongue


Reason for tongue pigmentation in Giraffes:

A lot of studies report that this feature of pigmented tongue serves as an adaptation for protecting Giraffe’s tongue from damage due to prominent exposure to sunlight while feeding on plants at such a height. Since the tongue is quite long, pigmentation has served to be a useful adaptation in this case The credit for the dark bluish-purple colour of the Giraffe’s tongue is often given to melanin pigment. Melanin has the role to protect from UV rays damage and sunburns. It is the same pigment (derived from amino acid tyrosine) that protects human skin from sun rays damage. 

Throwing some light to more facts about Giraffe’s tongue. A detailed analysis by electron microscopy reveals that the lingual papillae of the tongue are of the following types: lenticular, circumvallate, fungiform and conical. The tongue has a characteristic prehensile nature that allows the animal to grasp the food. 

So, the next time you get to see a Giraffe, do notice the bluish-purple colour of its tongue.

Thank you for reading

Team MBD

Learn more about Giraffes- Giraffe | National Geographic

Read more- What is a Bento box? – My Biology Dictionary

1 Response

  1. Mini says:

    Knowledgeable content….!!

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