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Giraffe - The Facts

How long is a giraffe's tongue? What colour is it?

Giraffe use their 18-20 inch (45-50 centimetre) long prehensile tongue and the roof of their mouths in order to feed on a range of different plants and shoots, most notably from Acacia species.

Africa’s Acacia species have developed fierce defensive thorns, requiring giraffe to use their dextrous tongues to sort out the nutritious leaves from the thorns. Fortunately, a giraffe’s tongue has thickened papillae, which helps to protect it from these vicious thorns. Additionally, thick saliva is also believed to help to protect the giraffe’s tongue and mouth against the defensive mechanisms of their favourite food. 

The colour of the tongue is best described as black, blue or purple with a pink base/back (see photo below). It is generally assumed that the front part of the tongue has such dark colouration to protect it during frequent sun exposure while eating and prevent the tongue from getting sunburned.

Tiki at Oakland Zoo, Photo: Erik Beckman
Image by Erik Beckman @ Oakland Zoo                          

The following video illustrates how a zoo giraffe uses its tongue to reach some high hanging leaves.