The remarkable anatomy of the giraffe's neck
Mammalian cervical vertebrae 6 and 7 and thoracic vertebra 1 possess many distinguishing characteristics. In the giraffe, bone morphology, muscle origins and insertions, as well as the location of the brachial plexus (described as many osteological and some soft tissue characters) are identical to those in other mammals but are all displaced posteriorly by one vertebra. There are two exceptions to these observations: the pre-sacral vertebral count is unchanged when compared with that in the okapi and C7 supports the first rib. Thus, one vertebra has been added in the neck of the giraffe between cervical 2 and 6, and some type of structural blending has occurred in the region of the first rib. The junction of the giraffe neck with the thorax is unusual and results in a protruding forelimb. It is possible that the unusual position of the neck relates to balancing of a cantilevered neck and head upon a relatively slight body. Characteristic drinking postures may have also influenced the observed anatomical modifications.(Accepted June 19 1998)
Key Words: neck anatomy; vertebral homology; giraffe; okapi.