An Ultimate Guide to Giraffatitan: The Giant Giraffe Lizard

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 25th September 2023

NameGiraffatitan DietHerbivorous
Name MeaningTitanic GiraffeHeight12 meters (40 feet)
PronunciationJi-raf-a-tie-tanLength21.8–22.46 meters (71.5 –73.7 feet)
EraMesozoicLate JurassicWeight39.92 – 48.08 metric tons (88,000 -106,000 lbs)
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia & SauropodaLocationTanzania (Africa)

Giraffatitan Pictures

3D illustration of giraffatitan walking isolated in a white background
3D illustration of giraffatitan walking isolated in a white background | Elenarts108 via iStock

The Giraffatitan

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Giraffatitan Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Giraffatitan Concept

For a plethora of reasons, dinosaurs are considered some of the most fascinating creatures to ever walk the Earth.

One of the primary reasons for this conclusion is their size, which leaves everyone wondering how such humongous creatures survived here on Earth.

Another reason these creatures are famous is their distinctive features, which vary across many species.

Because of this, dinosaurs that have distinct appearances and are equally huge are more famous in the eyes of the public.

Many dinosaur species possess these features, but this article focuses solely on the Giraffatitan.

As its name implies, it is a dinosaur that could easily pass as a combination of a giraffe and a large lizard.

Illustration of brachiosaurus
A illustration of brachiosaurus (what Giraffatitan was classified as originally) | Daniel Eskridge via iStock

The Giraffatitan, originally classified as Brachiosaurus brancai, was discovered in Tanzania, Africa.

The fossils were excavated from the Tendaguru Formation, a geological formation known for its rich deposits of Jurassic-age fossils.

The discovery was made in the late 19th century.

The excavation of Giraffatitan fossils in the Tendaguru Formation began in the early 20th century, with significant contributions from several German paleontologists and subsequent researchers.

German paleontologist Werner Janensch eventually named the creature in 1914, and the choice of name reflects the dinosaur’s unique features: its long neck and towering stature, which resemble the modern-day giraffe.

To discover more of this creature’s unique features, keep reading.

Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Plush Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Plush Collection

Physical Characteristics

Illustration of giraffatitan dinosaur in a white background
Illustration of giraffatitan dinosaur in a white background | Elenarts108 via iStock

Before the titanosaurs were discovered between 1914 and the end of the 20th century, many experts believed the Giraffatitan was the largest dinosaur ever.

This creature’s size has caused a lot of debate and controversy in the world of paleontology, with different experts conducting numerous research processes to get an accurate figure.

Based on the analysis of the early bones found and displayed in Berlin, the Giraffatitan reached lengths between 71.5 and 73.7 feet and was as tall as 40 feet.

Determining the weight of this dinosaur was even harder than determining its length.

Because of flawed methodologies, the initial estimate of the dinosaur’s weight was between 17 and 86 short tons.

The Giraffatitan’s weight has been estimated to be around 88,000 to 106,000 pounds.

The Giraffatitan was a sauropod, or four-legged, plant-eating dinosaur with a long neck, tail, and relatively tiny brain.

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Giraffatitan Size Comparison Chart
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Giraffatitan Size Comparison Chart

It was known for its long necks and tails, and it possessed long forelimbs, a long neck, and giraffe-like proportions.

Comprising up to 17 vertebrae, the neck constitutes a significant portion of its overall length.

This extended neck allowed the Giraffatitan to reach vegetation at varying heights, granting it access to various food sources.

The head of the Giraffatitan was relatively small compared to its massive body, featuring a short snout and a mouth lined with simple, peg-like teeth.

Its nostrils were on top of its head, suggesting it likely had a trunk-like structure that could grasp and manipulate vegetation.

The large orbits (eye sockets) of the Giraffatitan indicate the potential for well-developed vision, aiding in spatial awareness and predator detection.

The placement of the eyes would have given the creature a broad field of view, crucial for survival in its Jurassic environment.

A herbivorous sauropod dinosaur that lived in Africa during the Jurassic Period
A herbivorous sauropod dinosaur that lived in Africa during the Jurassic Period | CoreyFord via iStock

The limbs of the Giraffatitan were one of its most remarkable features; they were well-adapted to support its massive body.

These limbs were similar to those of other sauropod dinosaurs, characterized by their column-like structure.

The limb joints of the Giraffatitan were structured to allow relatively efficient and stable movement.

The Giraffatitan is believed to have been a quadrupedal dinosaur, meaning it walked on all four limbs.

Despite its great size, quadrupedalism offered several advantages.

By distributing its weight evenly across its limbs, the Giraffatitan could support its massive body and minimize the stress on individual bones and joints.

This adaptation is particularly important for large animals to avoid overloading any single limb and risking injury.

Habitat and Distribution

The Giraffatitan lived in the Late Jurassic Tendaguru Formation.

When this creature lived, the region it occupied was part of the supercontinent Pangaea.

Pangaea’s assembly and configuration significantly impacted global climate patterns, ocean currents, and terrestrial and marine life distribution.

The reduction in oceanic surface area due to the amalgamation of land masses led to changes in ocean currents and atmospheric circulation patterns.

The supercontinent presented altered climate, combined with the physical barriers, directly impacted species distribution.

The configuration of Pangaea was characterized by a northern landmass called Laurasia and a southern landmass called Gondwana.

The vast Panthalassa Ocean separated these two major landmasses. 

Giraffatitan walking in the desert by day
Giraffatitan walking in the desert by day | Elenarts108 via iStock

The fossils of the Giraffatitan were primarily found in what is now Tanzania, Africa, in the Tendaguru Formation.

This region was characterized by lush coastal plains and a warm, humid climate, providing an ideal environment for vegetation growth.

The habitat was believed to consist of floodplains, riverbanks, and lowland areas, where the dinosaur’s size and unique adaptations allowed it to feed on vegetation from both ground level and the upper canopy of trees.

The Tendaguru Formation, where Giraffatitan fossils were discovered, represents a portion of the Late Jurassic ecosystem.

This formation is renowned for its remarkable preservation of diverse plants and animals, which provides scientists with invaluable insights into the ancient environment.

The presence of other dinosaur species, as well as marine reptiles and prehistoric plants, suggests a dynamic ecosystem with a range of ecological niches.

Behavior and Diet

As a herbivore, it primarily fed on plants
As a herbivore, it primarily fed on plants | CoreyFord via iStock

Studying the social behavior of long-extinct creatures like the Giraffatitan presents several challenges.

Fossil evidence, while informative, can be limited in providing a complete picture.

According to some experts, this creature lived a solitary life.

This hypothesis was based on the idea that the environment of the Late Jurassic may not have been conducive to forming large herds due to resource limitations and predators.

A solitary existence would have minimized competition for resources and reduced attack vulnerability.

An alternative hypothesis proposes that the Giraffatitan may have established nomadic herds.

The discovery of trackways that suggest multiple individuals moving together supported this idea.

A herd of Giraffatitan dinosaurs travel through a grassy plain in Africa during the Jurassic Period
A herd of Giraffatitan dinosaurs travel through a grassy plain in Africa during the Jurassic Period | CoreyFord via iStock

Herding behavior could have protected against predators and facilitated efficient foraging, as larger groups could have more effectively browsed through extensive vegetation.

Considering how difficult it is to determine the Giraffatitan’s social behavior, experts have taken to a method that requires them to compare the bones and skeletons of the Giraffatitan with those of other sauropods and modern animals that can help infer social behavior.

For instance, analyzing the stress on bones and identifying potential injuries or growth patterns can provide insights into whether individuals interacted within groups.

So far, this dinosaur’s fossils have only been found in Tanzania, and because of this, experts believe that its existence was limited to that region of Africa.

However, because Africa was part of a supercontinent at the time, it is also possible that the Giraffatitan migrated at some point, possibly moving in groups. 

The Giraffatitan’s diet was exclusively herbivorous, and it had sharp, peg-like teeth that were well-suited for cropping vegetation.

Digital illustration of giraffatitan
Digital illustration of giraffatitan | Dmitry Bogdanov via iStock

The dentition of Giraffatitan is consistent with that of other sauropods, suggesting that they were adapted for processing plant matter rather than capturing or chewing food.

The lack of specialized dentition for grinding suggests that these dinosaurs practiced gastrolithic digestion, where they ingested stones to aid in the mechanical breakdown of tough plant material within their stomachs.

The precise composition of the Giraffatitan’s diet remains a subject of ongoing scientific investigation, but researchers have drawn insights from the fossils of contemporaneous plants found in its habitat.

The Giraffatitan would have likely browsed on these types of vegetation, utilizing its neck to reach leaves high in the trees.

Life Cycle

The life of a Giraffatitan begins in the shelter of a nest, usually made of plant materials and nestled in a safe location.

The eggs are incubated, and once hatched, the young Giraffatitan emerge as small, vulnerable creatures.

Illustration of a giraffatitan dinosaur mother and infant
Illustration of a giraffatitan dinosaur mother and infant | Mark Garlick via GettyImages

These hatchlings likely relied heavily on parental care during their initial stages of life.

During the juvenile phase, Giraffatitan would have experienced rapid growth.

Their diet likely consisted of plants and vegetation, and their long necks and sharp, leaf-shaped teeth designed for cropping vegetation showed that.

Giraffatitan juveniles would have faced various challenges as they grew, including predation from other dinosaurs and environmental factors.

As Giraffatitan transitioned into adolescence, they continued to grow both in size and strength.

Their diet would have remained largely herbivorous, but their height and size would have afforded them access to a broader range of plant resources.

Reproduction in Giraffatitan was a crucial phase of their life cycle.

Giraffatitan had forelimbs that were longer than its hindlimbs
Giraffatitan had forelimbs that were longer than its hindlimbs | CoreyFord via iStock

As they reached sexual maturity, typically around 10 to 15, they engaged in a complex mating ritual.

Males engaged in displays of dominance, possibly using their long necks as a visual spectacle to attract potential mates.

Once mating was successful, females lay clutches of eggs in carefully constructed nests, providing protection and care for their offspring during incubation.

Evolution and History

The story of the Giraffatitan begins in the 19th century.

This fossil was initially classified as a species of Brachiosaurus and named Brachiosaurus brancai.

Brachiosaurus is known for its long neck, relatively short tail, and distinct elongation of its forelimbs compared to its hindlimbs.

Giraffatitan dinosaur head
Giraffatitan dinosaur head | CoreyFord via GettyImages

This gave it a unique appearance among sauropods.

In the decades following its discovery, paleontological knowledge and classification methodologies evolved significantly.

By the late 20th century, experts recognized the need for clearer distinctions between dinosaur species.

During this period, the Brachiosaurus brancai fossils were reexamined, leading to the realization that they represented a distinct genus and species.

Despite the reclassification of Giraffatitan as a separate genus, taxonomic debates persisted.

Some experts argued that the differences between Giraffatitan and Brachiosaurus could not warrant separate genera.

They advocated for maintaining the original classification of Giraffatitan as Brachiosaurus brancai.

Giraffatitan dinosaur in a white background
Giraffatitan dinosaur in a white background | Nobumichi Tamura via GettyImages

This debate underscores the complexity of classifying prehistoric animals based on incomplete fossil evidence and changing classification methodologies.

Additionally, the reclassification process and taxonomic debates surrounding Giraffatitan serve as a reminder of the iterative nature of scientific understanding. 

Interactions with Other Species

The Giraffatitan’s herbivorous diet and colossal size primarily influenced the Giraffatitan’s interactions with other species.

Its immense height and long neck gave it access to food sources that were otherwise out of reach for many other herbivores at that time.

By feeding on the leaves and branches of tall trees, Giraffatitan occupied a unique ecological niche, minimizing competition with other herbivores that primarily grazed on lower vegetation.

The towering sauropod’s feeding habits also had indirect effects on the ecosystem.

Giraffatitan and dicraeosaurus dinosaurs grazing in a prehistoric environment
Giraffatitan and dicraeosaurus dinosaurs grazing in a prehistoric environment | Sergey Krasovskiy via GettyImages

As it browsed on vegetation, it shaped the structure of the vegetation itself, encouraging the growth of taller trees that could sustain its dietary needs.

This, in turn, affected other plant-eating species and potentially even shaped the distribution of habitats within the ecosystem.

While the Giraffatitan’s niche specialization reduced direct competition with other herbivores, it did share its environment with other large sauropods, such as Apatosaurus and Diplodocus.

These interactions likely revolved around resource partitioning, where different species adapted to utilize slightly different food sources or feeding heights to coexist within the same ecosystem.

The dinosaur’s interactions extended beyond herbivores.

The sheer size and strength of the towering sauropod made it less vulnerable to predation.

Giraffatitan dinosaur walking in a landscape by sunset
Giraffatitan dinosaur walking in a landscape by sunset | Elenarts108 via iStock

However, it wasn’t completely immune to the threat of large carnivorous dinosaurs like the Allosaurus, which also inhabited the same environment.

The predator-prey relationship between the Giraffatitan and these apex predators played a vital role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem.

Cultural Significance

The study of the Giraffatitan’s bones and fossils has led to breakthroughs in comprehending the physiology of dinosaurs, such as its cardiovascular systems and adaptations to support its colossal body.

Its awe-inspiring form has been a muse for artists, illustrators, and filmmakers who have sought to capture the magnificence of prehistoric life.

From children’s books to blockbuster movies, the image of the Giraffatitan evokes a sense of wonder and curiosity about our planet’s history.

Giraffatitan’s cultural significance extends to the realms of education and public engagement.

A hindlimb of Giraffatitan during excavation in the Tendaguru in Lindi region
A hindlimb of Giraffatitan during excavation in the Tendaguru in Lindi region | Internet Archive Book Images via Wikipedia No restrictions

Museums, science centers, and educational institutions have incorporated their fossils and replicas into exhibits and programs, inviting visitors to journey through time.

The story of Giraffatitan provides a gateway for individuals of all ages to explore the world of paleontology, fostering an appreciation for Earth’s history and the ongoing exploration of its mysteries.

As modern societies face climate change and habitat destruction challenges, the study of prehistoric creatures like the Giraffatitan serves as a reminder of the delicate balance that sustains life on Earth.


The Giraffatitan, also known as the giant giraffe lizard, represents a captivating and monumental figure in the world of dinosaurs.

Its unique blend of features, resembling a combination of a giraffe and a lizard, has ignited fascination and curiosity for generations.

From its immense size and distinctive physical characteristics to its habitat, behavior, and interactions with other species, the Giraffatitan offers a window into the prehistoric past and the complex ecosystems it inhabited.

Its cultural significance reverberates through art, literature, education, and our understanding of Earth’s history, fostering wonder and a deeper connection to the ancient world.

The story of the Giraffatitan serves as a testament to the enduring allure of dinosaurs and its ability to bridge the gap between the past and the present, inspiring us to explore the mysteries of our planet’s distant past.


Are there any well-preserved Giraffatitan on display in museums?

According to the Guinness Book of Records, a remarkable specimen of Giraffatitan brancai placed at the Berlin Natural History Museum is one of the world’s biggest and tallest mounted skeletons.

Is there any connection between the Giraffatitan and modern giraffes?

Despite the name Giraffatitan, this dinosaur is not directly related to modern giraffes.

The name reflects its long neck and tall stature, resembling a giraffe’s features.
Giraffatitan belong to the sauropod family, while giraffes are mammals.


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