camel

camel facts

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Classification and Evolution

The camel (also known as the dromedary, Arabian camel, and dromedary) is a large, hoofed animal most commonly found in the hot deserts of North Africa and the Middle East.

Humans have domesticated camels thousands of years ago for use as pack animals and mounts due to their resilience and adaptability to some of the harshest environments in the world. One could argue that some civilizations and peoples could not have thrived in arid regions without camels.

In addition to helping with transportation, camels have historically been their source of meat and milk. Camels also provide two types of wool for harvesting: a coarser outer coat and a softer inner coat. Both serve different purposes and camels shed their hair naturally.

camel-1

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One of the most unique mammals on Earth, the camel is perfectly adapted to life in the desert, where food and water are often scarce and temperatures can change rapidly from hot days to cooler nights. However, although they were once found roaming freely in the Arabian deserts, they are now extinct from the wild, but domestic populations are widespread and numerous.

animals of djibouti
Camels have evolved to thrive in some of the harshest environments, including deserts.

©Black Kings/Shutterstock.com



anatomy and appearance

Camels have many great adaptations that help them survive in dry climates.

As mentioned earlier, camels have two coats of fur that work together to provide protection from the hot sun during the day and warmth during the cold desert nights. Camel hair can vary in color from cream to brown.

Camels have other adaptations that keep their central mass away from the surface of the environment's blistering. The camel's legs are somewhat longer, which helps to maintain a certain distance from the ground. They also have a pronounced chest, allowing the belly to be lifted off the ground when squatting.

Even the parts of their bodies that touch the ground are dedicated to helping them survive. Due to the rocky and sharp floors in parts of the camel's habitat, thick pads have grown on the camel's feet to protect against cuts and scrapes. In other sandy areas that are not hard, camels can avoid sinking into the sand by spreading their two-toed feet.

The camel's eyes and nose are also adapted to thrive in arid regions. Long, layered eyelashes help keep dust out of the eyes, and very thin nostrils help keep dust and debris out.

Perhaps most notably, camels' signature large humps store fat (not water!), from which they can derive energy when nutrients and water are unavailable. This adaptation enables the camel to move in harsh environments.

The camel is a multi-gastric animal with three different stomachs that specialize in absorbing as much nutrients as possible from the harsh environment.

Amazing Desert Animals: The Dromedary Camel
Camels' thick brown skin helps protect them from the hot and cold days and nights of arid climates.

© Benny Marty/Shutterstock.com

evolution and history

Similar to the origin of the horse, the prehistoric camel is thought to have originated in North America about 40 to 50 million years ago. They are about the size of a rabbit. Eventually, they would evolve and migrate to Eurasia. Bactrian camels evolved from dromedary camels about 1 million years ago.

It's debated when camels were domesticated, but that was about 5,000 years ago! Humans have been using the camel's awesome adaptability to help transport goods and people across some of the most inhospitable terrain on Earth.

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Distribution and Habitat

Camels have historically roamed throughout the deserts of North Africa, the Middle East, and as far as Asia to the west of India, where environments can range from soft powdery dunes to harsher, rocky areas. Today, camels are no longer found in the wild, but remain as domestic animals in these areas, providing transportation and an important source of food for local people. Their ability to walk for so long without food and water, and to carry heavy loads, means they could allow people to travel farther in the desert. Today, millions of domesticated camels live in the desert, along with wild populations that can be found in the central deserts of Australia.

camel
Most camels live as livestock, usually in North Africa, the Middle East and as far as Asia such as western India. There is a wild camel, and there are many wild camels in the wild.

© iStock.com/Chalabala

3 types of camels

  • Bactrian camels – Bactrian camels are distributed in Central Asia and Bactria. These camels are domesticated. While most of the camels you see are dromedaries, these and wild camels are Bactrian camels! These humps are smaller and more conical than those of the dromedary.
  • Dromedary/Arabian camel – The dromedary is found in the Middle East, South Asia and the Sahara Desert. They have been brought into Australia and introduced there. They are domesticated. They are the tallest of the camels and have not been wild for nearly 2,000 years.
  • Wild Bactrian camels – Wild Bactrian camels are distributed in Mongolia and Northwest China. This camel is actually wild, not domesticated. This is a different species from the Bactrian camel, of which there are about 1,000 left on earth.

Behavior and Lifestyle

Camels inhabit these arid and arid regions in herds of up to 40 camels, consisting of females and their young, led by a single, dominant male. During breeding season, dominant males protect their female harem by biting, spitting, and leaning on their competing males. A camel rests by lying down, bending its front legs under its body, then its back. They are known to move differently from many mammals, moving their left leg first and then the right, allowing them to walk. To conserve vital water in such harsh conditions, camels have very few sweat glands (few for their large size), and they allow their body temperature to rise in the cold. The heat, means they lose water much more slowly than other large mammals.

Camel herds consist of a female, a calf, and a dominant male.

© Garrondo/Creative Commons

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Female camels can breed when they are between 3 and 4 years old, and male camels between 5 years old, when the dominant male in the herd has breeding rights with the females. Both female and male camels come into heat during the breeding season, which usually lasts from November to March. After a long gestation period of up to 13 months, the female gives birth to a single calf or occasionally twins, weighing up to 40 kg at birth. Within eight hours, a baby camel is able to stand and is then fed by its mother under the protection of the herd until it is big and strong enough to be independent. Baby camels start eating grass when they are two to three months old and are weaned at about four months.

little camel and mother
Female camels usually give birth to only one calf, but sometimes twins are born.

©Kertu/Shutterstock.com

diet and prey

Although camels are technically a herbivore, their diet is not strictly vegetarian, as they have been known to chew bones and eat carrion to supplement their diet. Another adaptation to life in the desert is their split tough lips, which help camels eat tough, spiny plants that other animals avoid. They are known to eat plants that are high in salt, which also means less competition with other animals for food. One of the most notable features of camels is their ability to store food and water energy in the form of fat in their humps, meaning they have a ready supply of energy when food and water are scarce. Camels can lose up to 40 percent of their body weight before they need to refuel, and once they find a water hole or oasis, they can drink about 40 gallons of water in a short period of time. For a full breakdown of their diet, check out our "What Do Camels Eat?" Their Diet Explained" page and read it!"

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what do camels eat
The camel is an opportunistic breeder and will eat anything, even thorny bushes.

© AZ-Animals.com

Predators and Threats

Although they no longer exist in the wild, the camel's large size means it has a limited number of predators. Lions and leopards are their most common predators; however, camels are not hunted as often as other hoofed herbivores due to the harsh arid regions they inhabit, where there are few large carnivorous mammals. Although they were first domesticated by humans more than 5,000 years ago, humans have been hunting them for meat and hides for much longer. Today, while camels do not exist in the true wild, they are abundant domestically, and they are often found with people from North Africa to West Asia.

camel teeth
While camels' bite and strong legs provided some protection, they (before domestication) lived in areas without many natural enemies.

©Alexandra Lande/Shutterstock.com

Camels Interesting Facts and Characteristics

Not only are camels hardy desert animals, as they can survive for up to 10 months without water if they find food, but their relatively slow lifestyle means they can also cover great distances in a day ( sometimes over 30 km), while carrying loads that may exceed 200 kg. Like many other domesticated animals, there are now various breeds of camels, which are individuals resulting from the crossing of a camel with a Bactrian camel, which are either larger, stronger, used as working animals, or extremely fast. Unlike any other mammal, camels have unique oval-shaped red blood cells that keep blood flowing smoothly when the animal becomes dehydrated and the blood thickens.

Tallest Animal: Dromedary Camel
A dromedary is capable of drinking 100 liters (30 gallons) of water in just 10 minutes and can withstand the loss of more than 30 percent of its body weight.

©Fabian Junge/Shutterstock.com

relationship with humans

People have used camels for thousands of years to transport goods across the desert and as a good source of milk and meat. Their hair can also be used along with their hide to make clothing. As with other domesticated animals, there are now many breeds of camels, but not all of them were used for real practical purposes, faster and faster breeds appeared, which were then used for camel racing. However, their gentle nature means they can live with people and other livestock without any problem.

camel in desert
Camels have been used to transport humans and their cargo over long distances for thousands of years.

© givaga/Shutterstock.com

Protect the status quo and life today

Today, while wild camel populations are extinct, they are common as domesticated animals throughout most of their natural range and are estimated to number as high as 20 million. In the 1800s, the first camels were imported to Australia to help people move to and from the vast desert. Since then, more and more camels have followed, leading to the fact that there is now a strong wild population, possibly as high as a million camels, roaming the deserts of central Australia.

more about camels

  • Why do camels have humps?
  • Camel Teeth: Everything You Need to Know
  • Camel poop: everything you need to know

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about the author

heather ross


Heather Ross is a middle school English teacher and mother of 2 people, 2 tuxedo cats and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading homework, she loves reading and writing about all things animals!

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Camel FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are camels herbivores, carnivores or omnivores?

Camels are herbivores, which means they eat plants.

To which kingdom do camels belong?

Camels belong to the animal kingdom.

Which category do camels belong to?

Camels belong to the mammalian class.

What phylum do camels belong to?

Camels belong to the phylum Chordate.

What family do camels belong to?

Camels belong to the family Camelidae.

What order do camels belong to?

Camels belong to the order Artiodactyla.

What type of mulch do camels have?

Camels are covered with fur.

What genus do camels belong to?

Camels belong to the genus Camelus.

Where do camels live?

Camels are found in Africa, the Middle East, India, Mongolia, China and Australia.

What type of habitat do camels live in?

Camels live in arid environments such as deserts and scrublands.

Who are the natural enemies of camels?

Natural predators of camels include lions, leopards and humans.

How many children does a camel have?

The average number of babies a camel has is 1.

What interesting facts about camels?

A camel can survive for 10 months without water!

What is the scientific name of the camel?

The camel's scientific name is Camelus.

How long does a camel live?

Camels can live 40 to 50 years.

What is the name of the little camel?

Small camels are called calves.

How many types of camels are there?

There are 3 types of camels.

What is the greatest threat to camels?

The greatest threat to camels is drought.

What is another name for camel?

Camels are known as dromedaries, Arabian camels, dromedaries, Bactrian camels and Bactrian camels.

How many camels are left in the world?

There are 20 million camels left in the world.

How fast is a camel?

Camels can travel as fast as 40 miles per hour.

What is the Difference Between Llamas and Camels?

The key differences between llamas and camels are their habitat and range, their ecological adaptations, and their utilization by humans. Llamas originated in South America and became extinct in North America after the last ice age. They prefer mountains, open plains and can live in a farm environment. Camels originated in North Africa, the Middle East, and spread as far as Asia and India. There are only a few populations in the wild, and they prefer deserts, open scrub and arid environments. Llamas have special feet with soft, sensitive bottoms that give them extra stability and cause less disruption to their native habitat. Additionally, their blood has elevated levels of hemoglobin to help them get oxygen at the extreme altitudes they can sometimes survive. Camels are known for their adaptability. These include large, flat feet that prevent sinking in the sand, thick fur that protects from the sun, and localized fat storage (humps) that help dissipate heat.

how do camels say in

Croatian

Deve starrog svijeta

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source
  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animals, The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) Encyclopedia of World Animals
  3. David Burney, Kingfisher (2011) The Animal Encyclopedia of Kingfishers
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) Atlas of Threatened Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Animal Encyclopedia
  7. David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) Encyclopedia of Mammals
  8. Camel Reproduction, available here: http://www.veterinaryworld.org/Vol.2%20No.2%20Full%20Text/Reproduction%20in%20Camel.pdf
  9. Camel Breeds, available here: http://www.camelphotos.com/camel_breeds.html