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  • Writer's pictureJulien Biget

Giraffe and fighter pilots

Updated: Jan 2

Ever asked yourself what giraffes and fighter pilots have in common? Probably not, it isn’t the most likely of connections, but somehow, they have an interesting story to tell.

Giraffes are perfectly designed to thrive in their environment. Their long neck gives them the ability to acquire food sources only available to them and elephants. Their tongues look blue and are thick-skinned, capable of wrapping around acacia tree branches and strip them of leaves without being damaged by the thorns. Their heart is huge, which can weigh up to eleven kilograms in adults, to increase its ability to pump blood around that body and especially up such a long neck.

giraffes in africa
Lerato Adventures – Giraffe and fighter pilots

But this long neck came with some problems, even with such a big heart, they needed a way of making sure blood flow made it up their necks and didn’t falter, otherwise they might pass out from a lack of blood to the brain. Their neck also made it difficult for them to lower their heads below heart level, making mundane tasks like drinking a little complicated. Evolution came to the rescue. Giraffe skin is incredibly well adapted to help them in their environment. Their skin is thick in all the right places, like on the front of their chests, to help them walk through acacia thickets without any damage caused by the plant’s thorns, or on their rumps and sides to help protect them from attack from lions, an adult giraffes only natural predator. Their skin is also very tight on their legs and body, creating a sort of pressure suit to maintain blood pressure and flow up their necks. This solved their blood pressure and flow issues. But now they would get a rush of blood to their brains when lowering their heads below heart level. So just below their brains they have a sponge-like structure called a rete mirabile or a carotid rete, which looks a little like a sponge, made up of blood vessels. This structure works to slow blood flow down when they lower their heads, so they do not have a rush of blood to the brain. Therefore, they can only keep their heads down to drink for about 2 minutes at a time. When they lift their heads up again, their heart is designed to give an extra little pump to equalize the blood flow again. Their whole design is just built to perfection.

Now where do the fighter pilots come in?

Well, fighter pilots had a similar problem. They had to come up with a way to maintain blood pressure and blood flow to their brains to prevent fainting or passing out during high-speed flights. During these flights they are put through such intense G-forces (gravitational forces) that they often fainted in mid-air. So, what did they do, well they looked at giraffes and decided to copy the system and create the fighter pilot pressure suit. This suit was tight all over, especially on the legs and helped maintain blood flow and pressure to the brain, solving their issues. Without the help of giraffes, fighter pilots may still be in a bit of trouble at such high speeds.



Julien T. Biget
Lerato Adventures – Julien T. Biget

Julien is French and Scottish, born in 1988 in Nairobi Kenya.

He's a professional Nature Guide and Trails Guide speaking both French and English. He has been lucky enough to have worked in some of the most amazing destinations Africa has to offer, from East Africa to Southern Africa, as well as some time in Central Africa.

From a very young age he knew he needed to work with animals, big or small, and somewhere in nature. He was always picking creatures up and trying to see the world from their perspective, trying to understand them as much as possible, mesmerised by their shapes and colours. He liked to share this passion with everyone around, always trying to get them involved in his discoveries. Nature is all around us, in Europe, Asia or Africa, all we have to do is realise it.

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