Exploring the Wonders of Long-Necked Animals

Long-necked animals

Disclosure: Some links may be affiliate links. If you buy an item via links on our site, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

The animal kingdom is a testament to the wonders of evolution, showcasing an astounding range of shapes, sizes, and adaptations.

Long-necked animals are a particularly intriguing example, from the towering giraffe to the elegant flamingo and the curious llama. But why did these animals evolve such distinctive necks, and how do they use them to survive and thrive in their environments? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the fascinating world of long-necked animals, uncovering their unique adaptations and the evolutionary stories behind them.

Why Do Some Animals Have Long Necks?

Why do some animals have long necks?

Look at a giraffe compared to you and I. The most apparent difference is its long neck but is there an evolutionary advantage to this? As it turns out, having a long neck is of benefit to animals including helping them reach high up food and for mating, among other things. Below we’ll take a more detailed look at these advantages.

Helps with Foraging & Drinking

Many animals with long necks are herbivores, but the plants they eat may be out of reach. But that’s where those long necks come in and allow the animal to access vegetation that’s higher up.

What’s more, for aquatic animals, such as egrets and flamingoes, the idea of having a long neck alongside their long legs better enables them to drink from water that is at ground level.


It’s thought that the giraffe originally evolved its long neck for feeding. However, there is further suggestion that this feature was to keep the giraffe cool and it’s something that was explained by Darwin.

Thermoregulation is the process of maintaining a suitable body heat and it’s believed that some animals, like the giraffe, use their long necks to expose more or less skin to the sun, therefore controlling their body temperature. 

What’s interesting is that this feature has been further proven to be of thermoregulatory benefit since giraffes generally have a comparable surface area to other mammals like elephants. Therefore, the addition of their long necks increases this surface area and helps with body temperature control. In fact, on hot days, giraffes can even be seen to be facing the sun!

Mating Displays

Bagging a mate in the animal kingdom is not easy, and there’s a lot of competition. To be successful, males, such as the ostrich, must put on an impressive display to woo a female and stand out from the crowd. In species like these, the neck is often one of the main features in these courtship displays.

Male ostriches may have different coloring on their necks as well as other areas of their bodies that they use in mating dances. From dropping to their knees, walking with a fancy gait, and spreading their wings, they certainly know how to put on a display. When it comes to those long necks, the ostriches will twist and turn their entire length to impress the object of their affection.

Predator Avoidance

It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and many animals are at risk of predation. Having a long neck gives an animal a much wider view of the world which therefore allows it to see any incoming threats. What’s more, it’s been proven that having a long neck has boosted the survival in giraffes as they have an advantage over other herbivores.

Types of Animals with Long Necks

There are many animals out there that have longer than average necks and a variety of reasons why they may be built that way. Let’s get better acquainted with some of them.

1. Eastern Long-Necked Turtle (Chelodina longicollis)

The eastern long-necked turtle has a very long neck in comparison to the rest of its body and may be up to 60% the length of its shell

The eastern long-necked turtle has a very long neck in comparison to the rest of its body and may be up to 60% the length of its shell. By bending its neck sideways, it can retreat the head into the shell with ease, despite the long length.

The species is native to Australia and is found pretty much all over the mainland and, because of its name, is sometimes called the eastern snake neck turtle.

The reason these animals have such long necks is to help them catch food. While the turtle can remain on the bottom of the body of water it inhabits, it can extend its neck and grab food. What’s more, in shallow water, it can stretch its neck above the surface acting as something of a snorkel!

2. Ostrich (Struthio camelus)

The ostrich lays claim to having the longest neck of any bird species alive

The ostrich lays claim to having the longest neck of any bird species alive. At the extreme end of things, the neck can be as long as 3 feet (0.9 meters)! They’re also the largest living species of bird in the world, so they’re pretty impressive all round. 

Ostriches are found on the African savannas, and as well as having a long neck, also has very long legs that enable it to run at up to 34 mph (55 km/h).

The reason that ostriches have such long necks is believed to be as a way of controlling the temperature of the bird’s head. Scientists have taken infrared images to confirm that these birds use their necks as a sort of radiator in warm weather to stay cool. However, these giant birds will also use their long necks in their courtship dances, twisting them to impress a potential mate.

3. Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis)

Giraffes have long necks that can measure up to 6 feet and may weigh as much as 600 lbs

The giraffe is perhaps the icon of the world of long-necked animals. The tallest animal on the planet, these gentle African mammals are truly a thing of wonder. Their long necks can measure up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) and may weigh as much as 600 lbs (272 kg)!

Giraffes have such long necks for a variety of reasons. Being herbivores, their long necks allow them to reach the highest parts of trees to access food that other animals could only dream about. But scientists also believe that those long necks evolved as a way to keep the giraffe cool by reducing solar radiation when they face the sun. 

After the discovery of a 16 million-year-old creature, scientists have also figured out that the giraffe’s neck may have evolved for fighting. We often see males entangling their necks during the fight for a female, and this sheep-sized ancestor with a thick-plated skull may have been the beginning of the animal we see today.

4. Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

Swans have long necks that can reach up to 60 inches

As far as long-necked birds go, the mute swan is one of the most well-known. These graceful birds are largely found across Europe, but populations have been introduced to North America.

Swans have a wingspan of 8.2 feet (2.5 meters), and their long necks can reach up to 60 inches (152 cm) which is pretty big when you consider that their heads are quite small in comparison.

It’s thought that the primary reason swans have long necks is to allow them to access vegetation for food even at the bottom of the water. Interestingly, different types of swans have different length necks which allow them to reach various foods, getting rid of any competition.

5. Camel (Camelus dromedarius)

Camels long necks can get up to 6.6 feet in length

The camel is native to arid regions in Africa and central and western Asia. However, it was introduced to Australia in 1840, where it has since become one of the most notorious nuisance species.

Despite this, they’re still fascinating animals whose long necks can get up to 6.6 feet (2 meters) in length! These creatures are actually closely related to the giraffe in evolutionary terms, another creature with a remarkably long neck. 

It seems there are several reasons for this evolutionary trait in camels. Primarily, it’s thought that the long neck is to allow the animal to forage. And forage they do since camels are not at all fussy and will eat around 80% of the available plants it comes across.

In addition to this, camels have long necks to allow them a better field of vision which in turn gives them a fighting chance against oncoming threats. The long neck also ensures stability and can help the camel to save energy as opposed to having to get close to the ground when drinking.

6. Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)

Flamingo long neck contains 19 vertebrae that allow the bird to twist and turn its neck in multiple directions

The flamingo is a beautiful pink bird that is found across southern parts of Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Indian subcontinent. But did you know that these birds are born brown and develop their pink hue over time as a result of the algae they eat?

Another striking feature of the flamingo is its long neck which contains 19 vertebrae, allowing the bird to twist and turn its neck in multiple directions.

Having the longest neck of any bird in comparison to the body, flamingoes are able to reach down into the water to feed despite their long legs. This also means they are able to stand in much deeper water.

During mating rituals, the flamingo will elongate its neck to make itself look as big and attractive as possible before moving their head from side to side.

7. Llama (Lama glama)

On average, a llama’s neck measures around 24 inches

Llamas have become an animal of fascination in recent years and are seen everywhere in pop culture. These animals are part of the same family as camels and are found in South America, where they have been domesticated.

On average, a llama’s neck measures around 24 inches (61 cm), and in total they stand around 3.9 feet (1.2 meters) tall. One of the main reasons that they have such long necks is to do with the length of their legs. Long legs allow them to run quickly away from predators, but they can also make it difficult to reach food and water on the ground; hence the long neck.

However, they’ll also use their necks for fighting along with other behaviors such as kicking and spitting.

8. Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

The Great blue heron's long neck when hunting, allows it to make a rapid movements that doesn’t alert the fish

The great blue heron is a species of wading bird found all over North America, from Alaska all the way down to Mexico. Their main source of food is fish, but in order to strike into the water and make a catch, these ambush hunters need to be swift. This is where their long necks come in as they allow them to make a rapid movement that doesn’t alert the fish.

Great blue herons also use their long necks to attract a mate. It’s not uncommon for males to stretch their necks and fluff up their plumage to impress a female. 

9. Cormorants (Phalacrocoracidae spp.)

The benefit of having a long neck is that the cormorant is able to forage for food much more easily

The term cormorant covers a family of around 40 different species. Their necks develop impressive plumage during the breeding season, which is used to help them attract a mate.

With a wingspan of up to 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) and living for up to 11 years, the cormorant is a year-round bird that’s common around coastal areas. Just like the swan I talked about earlier, the benefit of having a long neck is that the cormorant is able to forage for food much more easily.

It’s often said that their long necks give cormorants an almost reptilian look, and it’s thought that they’ve been around for more than 70 million years!

10. Gerenuk (Litocranius walleri)

The gerenuk has the longest neck of all gazelles, but while they’re long, they’re also very slender

Sometimes called the giraffe gazelle, the gerenuk is a species that’s native to the eastern parts of Africa. Not only does this animal have an obviously long neck but it also has long legs and some impressively long, ornate horns on the head.

The gerenuk has the longest neck of all gazelles, but while they’re long, they’re also very slender. The main advantage of this long neck is that the gerenuk can stand on its hind legs and reach much further up into the trees to access the best food. They largely feed on acacia, but since these are spiny, the gerenuk’s pointed mouth ensures it doesn’t sustain an injury.

As with many other long-necked animals, the male gerenuk uses his long neck to impress females. In this case, he’ll stretch his neck and present his profile to the object of his affections as well as displaying his horns.

11. Great Egret (Ardea alba)

The great egret will elongate its neck and point its beak towards the sky in an impressive courtship display

There are four subspecies of great egret that are found all over the world, including North and South America, Europe, and Asia. These large birds have significantly long necks which must be retracted during flight. However, this is not common among similar species which extend their necks as they fly and is a viable way of distinguishing the great egret from other species.

So, why do they have long necks? One of the main reasons is to aid in their courtship displays. The great egret will elongate its neck and point its beak towards the sky in an impressive display.

It will probably come as no surprise that the bird benefits from being long-necked when it comes to hunting. It will wait for prey to come near and then will strike using its long neck at lightning speed; the unsuspecting fish doesn’t stand a chance!

Why Did Dinosaurs Have Such Long Necks?

Why did dinosaurs have such long necks?

I couldn’t talk about long necked animals without mentioning some of the most lengthy necks in the history of the animal kingdom; dinosaurs. There were many dinos that boasted impressively long necks, such as the brachiosaurus, diplodocus, argentinosaurus, isisaurus, and the camarasaurus, among others. Although the isisaurus also had a very thick neck compared to other long necked species.

Much like modern animals, one of the main reasons that some dinosaurs had long necks was to enable them to access foliage that was further away and spread out. You’ll notice that the bulk of long-necked dinos are herbivores. Carnivores like the infamous T-rex had no need for a long neck when it came to feeding. Some scientists have even compared long-necked dinosaurs to old fashioned vacuum cleaners, hoovering up food all around them without having to move!

What’s interesting is that most people imagine these dinosaurs with their heads held upright, but scientists now believe that this probably wasn’t the case. It was originally thought that the dinosaurs would extend their heads up into the trees to access leaves. However, owing to the sheer weight of their heads and necks, this would have required enormous blood flow and a lot of energy. It’s therefore now believed that they would have held their heads at a 90 degree angle and fed on vegetation that was spread out as opposed to high up. 

It’s also thought that long necks in sauropods did not evolve until around 180 million years ago after a change in vegetation. It showed that only those with long necks survived while the rest went extinct.

Plesiosaurs, while not technically dinosaurs, were prehistoric marine reptiles that had extraordinarily long necks. In some cases, the neck could be as many as two thirds the length of the animal. Scientists have been looking at how their long necks may have increased drag if they turned their heads whilst in the water. It is therefore now believed that not only were their necks long but they were probably much thicker than we first thought as this would have produced less drag when turning.

Frequently Asked Questions

Similar Posts