How Giraffes' Skinny Legs Support All That Weight

Researchers discover a special ligament

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 3, 2014 1:16 PM CDT

(Newser) – With giraffes tipping the scales at 2,000 pounds or more, how on earth do those skinny legs support all that weight? Researchers think they've discovered the trick, and it involves an uber-supportive ligament tucked inside a groove in the animal's lower leg bones, reports Phys.org. Other big animals such as horses have a similar effect happening, but the giraffe's groove is much deeper, reports the BBC. It runs about half the leg length and allows the animal to stand for long stretches without using much muscle.

Giraffes "have unusually skinny limb bones for an animal of this size," says a researcher at London's Royal Veterinary College. "This means their leg bones are under high levels of mechanical stress." He and his team discovered just how powerful the giraffe's supportive ligament is by subjecting the limbs of deceased animals to huge amounts of force in a hydraulic press. In fact, giraffes in general can put on more weight, and those spindly legs will hold up just fine. (If you want to gauge a giraffe's age, check out its spots.)

File photo of a young giraffe testing its legs at the Oklahoma City Zoo.
File photo of a young giraffe testing its legs at the Oklahoma City Zoo.   (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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