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Phylogeny And Subspecies Of Giraffa Camelopardalis

1703 words - 7 pages

Not only are giraffes the tallest animals in the world, they are also one of the most recognizable. Their characteristic long necks quickly captivate any audience. That being said, it is not commonly known that there are thought to be nine subspecies of Giraffa camelopardalis. In fact, there is increasing evidence that these could potentially be separate species in their own right. This paper will discuss where giraffes fit in the Tree of Life and identify the giraffe’s closest relatives, differentiate and analyze the similarities and differences between the nine subspecies, and, finally, explore any debate revolving around the phylogeny of the subspecies.
The full scientific classification of the giraffe is Animalia Chordata Mammalia Artiodactyla Ruminantia Pecora Giraffidea Giraffa camelopardalis. There were at one time seven species in the genus Giraffa but today only one is still extant: camelopardalis, (Mitchell and Skinner, 2010). Because the modern giraffe does not have any other extant species within its genus, it is helpful to look the phylogenetic tree from a broader perspective. Going beyond the level of genus, the giraffe belong to the family Giraffidea. This family, though, is very small, as it only contains two different extant genera: Giraffa and Okapia, (Lerner and Lerner, 2008) Okapia, or the okapi, represents the closest living relative to the giraffe, and the two are very similar both morphologically and molecularly. The two animals can trace their ancestry back from the “gelocid ancestral assemblage” 20-25 million years to the family Palaeomeridae. From the palaeomerycids arose the Antilocaprinae from the subfamily Dromomerycinae, and two subfamilies of giraffids, the Climacoceratidae and Canthumerycidae. (Skinner and Mitchell, 2010). As it turns out, the Climacoceratidae is not an extinct line, but the Canthumerycidae represents the latest common ancestor between the okapi and the giraffe.
The family Giraffidea is characterized as being herbivorous, mostly browsing the foliage of woody plants. On top of that, both the giraffe and the okapi are ruminants, meaning they have a complex stomach divided into four pouches. As ruminants, they chew cud, which is a “regurgitated mass of pre-digested plantmatter” they obtain from one of their four stomachs, (Lerner and Lerner, 2008). As the re-chewed material passes through their alimentary system, the nutrients are absorbed. Both the giraffe and the okapi have very large, upright ears which allows them to pick up even the slightest sounds in order to avoid danger. The okapi also has a long, dark, prehensile tongue, just like a giraffe’s, to help it strip the buds and young leaves from the understory brush of its rain forest home. Though their basic bodily structure is fairly similar, there are some key distinctions. Similar to the giraffe, the okapi has distinctive horizontal stripes on its legs, but these stripes shift into being a uniform-chestnut pelage at the torso of the...

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