The giraffe’s neck: icon of evolution or icon of creation?
Published: 5 January 2007 (GMT+10)
Photo courtesy Wildlife Pictures Online
The long neck of the giraffe continues to be misrepresented as an icon of evolution. Discover recently alluded to the standard evolutionary explanation for the origin of the giraffe’s neck:
By Darwin’s reasoning, giraffes have long necks because longer-necked giraffes can reach more leaves, thrive, produce more offspring, and so increase the proportion of long-neck giraffes.1
Darwin himself wrote ‘… it seems to me almost certain that an ordinary hoofed quadruped might be converted into a giraffe.’2 He speculated that four-legged animals with longer and longer necks would be capable of reaching higher leaves and vegetation. Thus, during droughts, they would be more likely to survive and pass on this characteristic, than those with shorter necks. Over time, a creature that was not a giraffe would evolve into a giraffe with an extraordinarily long neck.
Superficially, it sounds logical. However, as with many evolutionary explanations, the hard scientific data reveals a far different story. The fossil, genetic, physiological, observational and logical evidence actually provides much stronger support for creation, not evolution.
If the giraffe’s neck elongated over long periods of time, then we should see evidence of this in the fossil record, with numerous transitional forms progressively getting longer. However, that is not what the fossil evidence shows. There are short-necked fossil quadrupeds, including some, like the living okapi, which have features in common with giraffes. However, when we see fossils of Giraffa, there are no short, intermediate and long-necked forms, let alone showing a progression. In other words, the fossil record reveals that giraffes have always possessed long necks.
Photo by Aaron Logan, LIGHTmatter
The gerenuk (or giraffe gazelle) is a long-necked antelope that exclusively browses in trees. It may well be an expression of the neck length variation possible within an original ‘gazelle’ or similar kind. But it does not have the long legs or other specialized structures of a giraffe; these were simply not part of the genetic repertoire of its kind. It stands on its hind legs to reach arboreal vegetation. A giraffe is much more than just a ‘long-necked antelope’.
In addition, there are well-preserved giraffe footprints next to the fully human footprints in Laetoli, Tanzania dated at around 3.5 million years old on the evolutionary time scale. The shape and depth of these footprints strongly suggest that these ancient giraffes were virtually identical in height, weight and stride length to those living today3.
Genetic and Physiological Evidence
Many are unaware that Darwin’s book actually suggested that use and disuse of body parts was somehow inherited. In other words, giraffes that stretched their necks further were more likely to pass ‘long-neckedness’ on to their offspring. That notion has been thoroughly discredited, of course. Use and disuse does not affect the genetic program that is passed on to offspring.
Today’s ‘neo’-Darwinist believes, instead, that genetic mutations—i.e. accidental copying errors—were responsible for some giraffes having longer necks, which were then selected for, i.e. they were the ones more likely to survive the droughts mentioned earlier. Mutations, such as the one causing achondroplastic dwarfism in humans, can dramatically alter limb proportions.
It is conceivable that a mutation could cause an antelope-like creature to have a slightly longer neck. However, such a mutation would have no effect on the length of the legs. These are under separate genetic control.
Any dramatic mutational increase in neck length would also cause severe health hazards. A multitude of precisely fine-tuned anatomical and physiological mechanisms would have to simultaneously accompany the skeletal changes. Giraffes were created with specialized valves in their neck and head to protect them from massive fluctuations in blood pressure while lifting or lowering their heads. Without these vital supporting structures already in place, the giraffe would rupture blood vessels in the brain or in the retina while lowering its head to drink. As a result, any stepwise evolution of the giraffe neck is physiologically implausible. A giraffe is in any case much more than a long-legged antelope (See box re the gerenuk).
Observational and Logical Evidence
If giraffe survival depended on being able to reach higher and higher leaves during
a drought, then giraffes would have died out a long time ago with the death of the
[shorter] females and young
During droughts, water is much more important than food. Animals can survive long periods of time without food, but not without water. A bigger, taller giraffe would require much more water than a smaller, shorter giraffe. Therefore, it is actually more likely that the taller giraffes would die from dehydration. In reality, a creature’s ability to survive droughts and other harsh environmental conditions is determined by a number of other factors besides height and size.
Also, female giraffes can be as much as two feet shorter than male giraffes. In addition, young giraffes are much shorter than fully mature ones. If giraffe survival depended on being able to reach higher and higher leaves during a drought, then giraffes would have died out a long time ago with the death of the females and young giraffes.
Also, giraffes live with shorter tree browsers such as gazelles, impalas, elands and gerenuks. All of these animals have successfully survived periods of drought with much shorter necks.
Icon of Creation
The neck of the giraffe should be considered an icon of creation. The Bible tells us that all land animals (including giraffes) were created fully formed, to reproduce after their own ‘kind’ on day six of creation. Giraffes have always had long necks, and they have always been giraffes.
- Ruvinsky, DNA Is Not Destiny, Discover, November 2006. Return to text.
- Darwin, Charles, On the origin of species, P 227-8, Random House, 1993. Return to text.
- Sodera, V., One small Speck to Man, p. 113. Return to text.