"How the giraffes got its neck"
"It is interesting to observe the result of habit in the peculiar shape and size of the giraffe (Camelo-pardalis): this animal, the largest of the mammals, is know to live in the interior of Africa in places where the soil is nearly always arid and barren, so that it is obliged to browse on the leaves of trees and to make constant efforts to reach them. From this habit long maintained in all its race, it has resulted that the animal's fore-legs have become longer than its hind legs, and that its neck is lengthened to such a degree that the giraffe, without standing up on its hind legs, attains a height of six metres (nearly 20 feet)." - Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1809) "Zoological Philosophy"
Lamarck's explanation of the giraffe's neck is a classic "adaptationist" story
[sometimes called "Just
stories after those of Rudyard Kipling], a clever and attractive
explanation of the adaptive significance of a character, which
is however not based on any
empirical data. Actual observation of giraffes shows that
they actually prefer to
browse at shoulder height. The extended neck of giraffes instead
appears to be a consequence of sexual
Male giraffes use their neck and head as clubs in agonistic
with other males in competition for females: those with thicker
and more massive skulls and horns are more successful, and are
the mates preferred