15 Animals with Long Necks

Photo: WireStock Creators / Shutterstock

We might think they’re goofy-looking, but animals with long necks are often at a significant advantage in their respective environments. This evolutionary trait is seen in mammals, birds, and reptiles.

In this article, we’ll be learning about all animals that have long necks!

  • Giraffes
  • Wild Bactrian Camels
  • Ostriches
  • Eastern Long-necked Turtles
  • Old World Vultures
  • Swans
  • Flamingos
  • Llamas
  • Cassowaries
  • Gerenuks
  • Herons
  • Limpkins
  • Cranes
  • Storks
  • Galápagos tortoise 

1. Giraffes

Scientific name (genus): Giraffa

Giraffes hold several titles in this category: they’re the animals with the longest necks, the tallest animals with long necks, and they’re the world’s most well-known long-necked animals.

Because of their extremely long necks, giraffes are also the tallest terrestrial animals!

A giraffe’s neck can grow up to 8 feet in length, and this is the result of their vertebrae prolonging (a single giraffe vertebra can be longer than 11 inches). Their necks allow them to reach tall branches and browse them for vegetation.

Charles Darwin hypothesized that this is the reason giraffes grew long necks, as it makes feeding easier.

However, it’s also possible that males are the first ones that started growing long necks to establish sexual dominance, while the height advantage is useful for staying safe from predators.

2. Wild Bactrian Camels

Scientific name: Camelus ferus

These animals with long necks and fur all over them are often overlooked for this category, as their necks don’t appear to be long. However, if you shaved their fur off, you’d find a very long, flexible neck.

The long neck of a Bactrian camel is covered with fur as a form of protection from the harsh winters of Mongolia and China, where it is now a critically endangered species.

The hairs on their neck can measure up to 10 inches, and the camel needs such a long neck to reach low shrubbery, its primary food source, without bending down.

3. Ostriches

Scientific name (genus): Struthio

There are two living ostrich species – the common ostrich and the Somali ostrich. 

Ostriches are birds with the longest necks, and also the tallest birds, as they’re almost ten feet tall, with their long necks allowing them to observe their surroundings from a height.

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Zoologists agree that these birds developed long necks and thin, long legs to spot predators early and run away from them quickly. 

Ostriches are flightless birds, but they’re very agile and incredibly quick on their feet. They reach speeds of over 40 MPH, which means they can outrun most natural predators

4. Eastern Long-necked Turtles

Scientific name: Chelodina longicollis

Just as the name suggests, Eastern long-necked turtles have extremely long necks in regard to their size. 

In fact, they’re the reptiles with the longest necks, as their necks are usually longer than half their body! In extreme cases, usually with very old turtles, the neck can be as long or even longer than the shell!

The long neck is crucial in hunting, as they bend it under their body and strike out at prey (frogs, tadpoles, small aquatic animals), a technique very similar to snakes.

5. Old World Vultures

Scientific name (family): Accipitridae

This group of vultures (they are informally grouped as New World vultures and Old World vultures) is known for having long necks. Interestingly, their necks are either completely bald or have very few feathers.

Since they primarily feed on animal carcasses, their long and flexible necks allow them to really get their beaks inside a carcass to get all the meat.

The lack of feathers on their necks protects them from getting blood all over them, which would attract predators and even other birds.

6. Swans

Scientific name (genus): Cygnus

These birds with long necks feed mostly on aquatic vegetation, which they can only reach by diving in with their long necks.

Unlike some other bird species, swans can’t actually fully submerge themselves, so they had to grow extra long necks to be able to reach food.

They also use their necks to intimidate would-be predators; curving their necks back and raising their wings, often flapping them, is a display of power. Black swans are the swans with the longest neck.

7. Flamingos

Scientific name (family): Phoenicopteridae

Flamingos are known as pink birds with long necks and long legs, somewhat similar to ostriches in their physique. 

However, flamingos can fly, and they use their necks for feeding. They’re omnivores, feeding on algae, shrimp, and insects.

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Their very long legs allow them to walk through water without actually getting their bodies wet, while their long necks allow them to break the surface without having to dive in.

8. Llamas

Scientific name: Lama glama

Llamas are one of the few animals that fight with their necks, in what’s known as ‘neck wrestling’. 

These fights usually occur between two males to establish dominance, but domesticated llamas will also attack people like this, as they don’t see us as strangers (which is flattering, in its own way).

Neck wrestling looks exactly like you’d imagine it – two llamas are trying to pin one another to the ground, using their necks the same way people use their arms and legs.

Neck fights are also common with giraffes, but they’re much more vicious and aggressive. Two giraffes will swing their necks and their heads at one another with incredible force, but also at a predator if stomping them didn’t work.

9. Cassowaries

Scientific name: Casuarius

Cassowaries are some of the tallest birds in the world, shorter only than ostriches, with some extremely tall specimens reaching heights of 6 feet and 6 inches.

Their long necks have evolved so they could grab fruits from trees, as they mainly feed on fruit, but they’ll eat small animals if an opportunity arises. 

These Australian animals with long necks also subscribe to odd mating rituals, which usually involve a male and a female chasing one another until the male submerges his head and neck underwater.

10. Gerenuks

Scientific name: Litocranius walleri

These African animals with long necks are also known as ‘giraffe gazelles’, and the reason is pretty obvious – their necks are extremely long! Just like giraffes, gerenuks use their long necks for feeding.

They’ll often stand on their back legs and pull a tree branch down with their mouths, reaching over 6 feet and 7 inches above the ground. Their body-to-tail length is usually between 55 and 63 inches, with their neck being a quarter of that.

With llamas, camels, and giraffes – gerenuks are one of the few mammals with long necks.

11. Herons

Scientific name (family): Ardeidae

Since these birds live exclusively near aquatic environments, they’re the closest we have to sea animals with long necks. Herons mostly feed on fish, but also on reptiles and amphibians that they find.

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They’ll retract their neck when flying, which is something most long-necked birds can’t do, and they’ll extend it to attack prey. Just like swans, they use their long neck to submerge and grab prey

12. Limpkins

Scientific name: Aramus guarauna

Limpkins use their long legs and necks to scour the water for food, which usually includes vegetation and small animals. Just like snails, they’ll submerge their head and the entirety of their neck, while the rest of their body remains dry.

Snails and other mollusks make up a great part of their diet, so they need to be able to reach the bottom of a lake or stream to find food. They’ll often dig up worms, too.

13. Cranes

Scientific name (family): Gruidae

Cranes don’t have retractable long necks as herons do, so they fly with their necks outstretched. Just like many other birds with long necks on this list, they use them for feeding.

You can also find cranes using their necks to impose themselves on other animals, be it another crane or a predator. They’ll often widen their wings as much as possible and extend their neck to appear large.

14. Storks

Scientific name (family): Ciconiidae

The last bird species on our list, storks, also use their long necks to kill and eat prey (which seems to be the default answer to the ‘Why do birds have long necks?’ question), but also to communicate. 

In a gesture similar to human behavior, storks will bob their head up and down.

Their long necks allow this movement, which is often used as a greeting to other storks, but also as a threat display between particularly territorial storks (usually during breeding season).

15. Galápagos Tortoise

Scientific name: Chelonoidis niger

There are many reasons these tortoises developed such long necks. Firstly, it allowed them to breathe when they were swimming, as they just had to extend their necks above water. 

They also use their necks for dominance displays, but also as room for water storage.

Shorter tortoises are considered inferior, so a tortoise with a long neck is usually the superior one in the group. 

Their mating rituals and battles for dominance can get very aggressive and uncomfortable to watch, with head biting and shoving often happening.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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