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. (...
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Hassanin, A. et all, 2007. Mitochondrial DNA variability in Giraffa camelopardalis:
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Lerner, E. and Lerner, B., 2008. Giraffes and okapi. The Gale Encyclopedia of Science 4
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Cope, E., 1888, The Artiodactyl. The American Naturalist 264:1079-1095
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http://www.giraffeconservation.org/giraffe_facts.php?pgid=6, retrieved April 12, 2014.
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