There are multiple theories that explain why some animals have evolved and adapted in certain ways. One such animal adaptation is having a longer than average neck, like a giraffe. There are many different types of animals with long necks all over the world, in this article we’re going to look at 10 of them.
But first, let’s learn a little bit about why these animals have evolved in this way.
Why do some animals have long necks?
The most popular theory is that of survival. For example, animals with long necks, like giraffes, live in the same habitat with lots of other animals that snack on plants and foliage for survival.
To survive, giraffes evolved necks longer than other foragers to reach the tops of trees. This eating approach helps minimize competition for food.
Another theory is that of natural selection. Some scientists believe such long necks play a pivotal role in attracting and fighting for mates. We can go on and on with theories, but that isn’t important for now.
Let’s take a sneak-peak at 10 incredible animals with long necks.
10 Interesting Animals with Long Necks
Scientific Name: Giraffa camelopardalis
Neck Length: Approx. 8 ft. (2.4 m)
An adult male giraffe (known as a bull) has the longest neck of any animal in the world. While an adult female giraffe (known as a cow) can have a 7-ft-long neck, an adult male’s neck can reach 8 feet in length.
Giraffes are native to Southern and Eastern Africa, where prolonged droughts are synonymous with scarce food. Their long necks allow them to survive in habitats where droughts are pretty common, and food is naturally scarce. These long-necked herbivores can reach leaves and buds where other terrestrial browsers can’t (acacias are their favorite).
Adult male giraffes also use their extra-long necks to fight over mates. They usually fight by whipping their necks around and hitting each other with their heavy, skull-like heads (video). Male giraffes with longer and thicker necks are more likely to win a fight and enjoy mating rights.
Fun Fact: A newly born baby giraffe can measure up to six feet tall – about the same height as an average adult human being!
Scientific Name: Struthio camelus
Neck Length: Approx. 3.2 ft. (1 m)
The common ostriches belong to a large group of flightless birds known as ratites. They’re the largest living species of birds found in Africa savannas. An adult male ostrich is about 3.2 feet tall – and the bird’s neck contributes nearly half of this body height.
Since the common ostriches weigh approx. 320 lb. (145 kg), they’re unable to take a flight when confronted by predators. Even so, they’ve evolved unique abilities to evade predators and survive in the savannas and open woodlands.
The ostrich’s remarkably long neck is flexible enough to turn in any direction. This ensures a 360-degree view of the surrounding area, enabling it to see a predator before it gets too close. Furthermore, the ostrich has long, muscular legs that can sprint as fast as 43 mph (70 km/h) to escape any oncoming danger.
Scientific Name: Litocranius walleri
Neck Length: Approx. 0.8 ft. (0.24 m)
Also known as Waller’s gazelle, the gerenuk (say “gair-uh-nook”) is the Somali language that means “giraffe-necked.” This is an incredibly long-necked gazelle native to the open scrublands and lowland areas of the Horn of Africa.
Gerenuks are herbivores munching on shoots, thorny bushes, fruits, and flowers. They use their 0.8 feet long necks and powerful hind limbs to reach plants growing as high as 6-8 feet. With modified lumbar vertebrae and special wedge-shaped hooves, gerenuks can stand unsupported and browse even taller bushes.
Being able to reach much higher than other gazelles and antelopes means the gerenuks’ diet consists of succulent plants rich in moisture. For that reason, they don’t require grass or water to survive. This means they can comfortably thrive in scrublands and deserts.
4. Eastern Snake-necked Turtles
Scientific Name: Chelodina longicollis
Neck Length: Approx. 0.6 ft. (0.18 m)
The eastern snake-necked turtles are classified as side-necked turtles. They’re carnivorous animals feeding on small fishes, amphibians, crustaceans, insects, and warms. These turtles can be found in freshwater environments of south-eastern Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria.
True to their name, these aquatic animals have the longest neck of any group of turtles existing today. In fact, their neck is approximately 60% longer than the entire length of their carapace (shell). Females tend to possess longer necks than males.
Due to their long necks, these turtles cannot retract their necks directly into their shell. Instead, they twist their necks and pleat their heads sideways into their carapace. The eastern snake-necked turtles use their long necks to get close enough to their prey before snapping it up.
Fun Fact: The eastern snake-necked turtles hunt using the ‘sit-and-wait’ technique. They wait for prey to come to them before striking it out.
5. Scarlet Ibis
Scientific Name: Eudocimus ruber
Neck Length: Approx. 0.7 ft. (0.21 m)
The Scarlet Ibis is a bright pink bird that falls in the same group as spoonbills. Native to South America, this medium-sized wading bird has a moderately long neck, long, down-curved bill, and slightly webbed feet. Its habitats include mudflats, marshes, mangroves, wetlands, bays, swamps, ponds, and more.
Ibises generally stand about two and a half feet from the ground, but males are a bit taller than their female counterparts. The vast majority of their food consists of crayfish, shrimp, and crabs. They can also feed on small snakes and fish, frogs, insects, and snails.
When foraging, Ibises probe their curved, slender bills into soft muds, sands, and shallow water to flush out their prey. Their relatively long necks help guide their bills through shallow waters and mudflats in search of food. Notably, these birds have helped farmers eliminate pests that are harmful to plants!
6. Whooper Swan
Scientific Name: Cygnus cygnus
Neck Length: Approx. 3 ft. (0.91 m)
Swans are big-bodied bird species whose close relatives are ducks and geese. You’ll naturally find them in temperate environments, occurring in Australia, New Zealand, and the Chatham Islands. They rarely occur in the tropics and the entirety of Africa.
Whooper Swan, one of the swan’s largest living species, can grow up to 4 feet or 1.2 meters tall. It can also measure 5 feet or 1.5 meters from the end of the tail to the tip of the bill. Swans have longer necks than geese, typically maxing out at around 3 feet or 0.91 meters.
They’re almost entirely herbivorous, feeding on leaves, roots, stems, and tubers of aquatic and submerged plants. Their long and flexible necks enable them to forage both in water and on land. A short-necked swan would find it hard to feed underwater and wouldn’t be able to spot predators.
Scientific Name: Phoenicopterus roseus
Neck Length: Approx. 2.6 ft. (0.79 m)
Flamingos are wading bird species. They typically have black flight feathers and pink wing converts. Four flamingo species are native to the Americas, while two species are distributed across Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Flamingos are very tall birds, with the tallest species reaching up to 4.7 feet or 1.45 meters in height. They’re also characterized by long necks, usually growing up to 2.6 feet or 0.79 meters.
Their long, s-shaped necks allow them to bend down to filter-feed on brine shrimp, small crustaceans, blue-green algae, and more. These sinuous necks consist of 19 elongated cervical vertebrae, allowing for optimum twisting. They can even bend the neck backward to groom their feathers.
8. Dromedary Camels
Scientific Name: Camelus dromedaries
Neck Length: Approx. 6.6 ft. (2 m)
This is also known as the Arabian camel. A dromedary camel is domesticated in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and the Sahara Desert. A full-grown dromedary camel can grow to a shoulder height of 7 feet (2.1 meters). It can also be 10 feet (3 meters) tall.
Camels have a distinctive silhouette, with their long neck, humped back, long slim legs, and short tail. Their elongated neck plunges downward then rises to a small, slender head. While camels feed on ground vegetation, there’s a reason why they need a long neck.
Dromedary and Bactrian camel species have the longest limbs of any living camelids. Because of their long limbs, they need a long neck to avoid kneeling or bending down to feed.
Fun Fact: Did you know that a camel can go for long periods without water? And when it drinks, it can complete 100 liters in one sitting!
Scientific Name: Vicugna pacos
Neck Length: Approx. 3.8 ft. (1.17 m)
An alpaca belongs to the South American camelid family. It resembles a long-necked camel, but it has no humps. The two common alpaca breeds include the Huacaya alpaca and the Suri alpaca.
You can easily distinguish these animals by their long, straight ears and rounded back. They also possess long, shaggy necks with thick lips and prominent noses. Their 3.8-ft long necks play two key roles.
First, these animals love to eat leaves off trees, just like the llama and vicuna. So, they evolved the long necks and legs to eat leaves on top of the branches. Secondly, their long necks help them watch out for predators like mountain lions, bears, and coyotes.
Scientific Name: Lama glama
Neck Length: Approx. 4.3 ft. (1.3 m)
The llama is a domesticated herbivore member of the South American camelid family. You may find llama herds in Colombia, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Argentina. They’ve also been exported to other countries across the world.
These slender-bodied animals are the largest among the four lamoid species, averaging about 5.8 feet high. Additionally, these gregarious animals have got long necks that can grow up to 4.3 feet or 1.3 meters. They feed on grass and other plants.
The llama’s long legs aren’t practical in reaching the ground to graze. As a result, it has evolved long necks to enable them to feed comfortably without having to kneel to eat. What’s more, having to bend down to browse is suicidal, because you never know where the next predator will come from!
Fun fact: Llamas were first domesticated around 4,500BC. And they were instrumental in the construction of Peru’s ancient city of Machu Picchu.