The question has been haunting researchers for centuries, but it was only this week that a new scientific paper has explained how giraffes grew long necks. Apparently, modern species of giraffes developed this new physical characteristic 16 million years ago.
The current discovery was made after scientists compared fossils of two species of giraffes, one that lived 25 million years ago and the other one 16 million years ago. Scientists have analyzed many cervical vertebrae from 71 specimens of giraffes in order to determine how this species acquired longer necks throughout historical periods.
Researchers were particularly interested in two older species, namely, the 25-million-year-old Prodremotherium elongatum and the 16-million-year-old Canthumeryx sirtensis. Unlike their ancestors, these two species presented elongated necks that were more or less similar to modern giraffe necks.
According to scientists modern giraffes grew 10-inch long cervical vertebrae after a separation occurred within the Canthumeryx species. More specifically, the okapi specimens maintained their initial long measures, whereas the Samotherium major exemplars continued to grow longer necks until they reached the modern form we know today approximately 7 million years ago.
Scientists have compared the recent findings with the evolution of other long-necked species and they have discovered that giraffes are not the only animals to feature this physical trait. Sauropod dinosaurs and aquatic plesiosaurs have also developed additional vertebrae to survive evolution.
Researchers at the New York Institute of Technology think the new study complements the previous data on the evolution of giraffes. Previous studies suggest giraffes developed longer necks in order to reach higher tree branches and feed themselves. While this theory was acknowledged as true, scientists still needed to determine the exact moment when giraffes’ ancestors developed this new trait.
The current scientific paper is the first research to compare various neck sizes of giraffe species. The study was published in the journal of Royal Society Open Science on October 7th.
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