Everyone, stop what you’re doing because there’s an important giraffe science update. This is the news you need today.
Scientists reckon giraffes’ super long necks might not just be for eating leaves off those pesky tall trees. They might instead have been designed for fighting off romantic rivals.
It’s the plot twist none of us saw coming, but which makes sense the more I think about it. Giraffes have big lad energy.
As a general rule, scientists have believed the long necks of giraffes evolved so they could munch on trees no other animals can reach. But actually, neck length might’ve played a role in sexual selection too.
How do we hypothesise this? Well my friends, we do it through fossils!
First we have to rewind to 1996. Dr Jin Meng, who’s now a vertebrate palaeontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, found a weird fossilised skull in China’s Junggar Basin.
The skull was nicknamed “strange beast” by Dr Meng and his co-workers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The skull had this big old bone plate on its head — perfect for headbutting.
Another palaeontologist, Dr Shi-Qui Wang started investigating the fossil again back in 2015.
The “strange beast” is a creature called a Discokeryx xiezhi and is an ancient giraffoid.
Now it turns out our besties Discokeryx xiezhi would headbutt one another to win sexual attention. Powerful stuff. Don’t get any ideas.
The researchers compared it to the weird thing modern giraffes do where they swing their necks at each other while they’re fighting. If you’ve never seen giraffes fighting, it’s honestly fucking wild and genuinely quite scary.
According to the research, the Discokeryx xiezhi‘s head-butting is “indicative of an extreme adaption in a different direction within giraffoids”.
But they said it also “increases our understanding [of] the actual triggers for the giraffe’s head-neck evolution”. AKA maybe just being horny.
What’s really interesting is that while our fun little giraffe ancestors were much smaller than our giraffes, they had super strong heads and necks.
I mean, look at these little guys.
So, they just discovered a new species of Giraffe which is essentially just the mammalian version of Pachycephalosaurus…
This Domed Giraffe has been named Discokeryx xiezhi, and I love this thing so much.
(art by Y. Wang) pic.twitter.com/8A9wpJy2Vn
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Regular giraffes use their necks to fight for the approval of lady giraffes, not their heads. But the two different species could have evolved in similar ways.
“Although their skull and neck morphologies differ greatly, both are association with male courtship struggles and both have evolved in an extreme direction,” Dr Shi-Qui Wang said.
There you have it: perhaps giraffes were just horny all along. Science strikes again.