Photo: Wolfgang Hasselmann via Unsplash
Camels are known to go for long periods without water, they are often thought of as desert animals. They live in various habitats, including steppes, woodlands, plains, and even mountains. Camels are also known for going for long periods without food.
Some people call them the Ship of the Desert because they can carry large loads across great distances. Arabs have been using them for transportation for more than 3,000 years.
Camels are one of the unique animals in the world and have many interesting characteristics.
In this article, we will discuss everything about camels, from their description to appearance, diet, habitat to reproduction and other interesting facts.
Description and Appearance
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The camel (Camelus dromedarius) is a large, even-toed ungulate with distinctive humps on its back.
The two extant species of camel are:
- The dromedary, or one-humped camel (C. dromedarius): found throughout the desert areas of North Africa, the Middle East, and northern India.
- The Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus): a two-humped camel found in Central Asia.
The average height for an adult male dromedary is about 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) at the shoulder, while the Bactrian camel is somewhat taller, at about 2 m (6 ft 7 in).
Females are generally about 10% smaller than males.
Dromedaries living in hot desert regions have light brown coats, while those inhabiting cold, mountainous regions are generally darker-coated.
The Bactrian camel often has a shaggy coat of black hair.
Both species have long, curved necks and relatively long legs.
The dromedary is the tallest of the two species and can reach up to 2 m (6 ft 7 in) at the shoulder.
The camel's head is relatively small and has a triangular-shaped face with two furry eyebrows that protect the eyes from blowing sand.
Its nostrils can close to keep out the dust of a desert storm.
The camel's mouth is wide, allowing it to consume large amounts of dry vegetation.
The front feet of a camel are narrow and pointy, while the rear feet are much more comprehensive, providing more support when the animal is standing upright.
Toes on all four feet are webbed to help keep them from spreading too far apart when walking on soft sand.
The camel's hump (or humps) is not made of fat, as many people believe, but rather is a reservoir of watery fluids that the animal can draw on during extended periods without access to water.
When the hump(s) is/are empty, the camels back appear sunken.
A full-grown dromedary camel can weigh up to 600 kg (1,300 lb.), while a Bactrian camel can weigh 1,000 kg (2,200 lb.).
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Camels are primarily herbivorous, eating leaves, bushes, grasses, and flowers. They eat whatever greens are available in the wild, but domesticated camels are often fed hay, straw, and other dried plants.
Thanks to their three-chambered stomachs and specially adapted intestines, they can digest this thorny vegetation.
Camels in zoos get special food pellets and hay and vegetables.
Dromedary camels are well-suited to their desert habitats. They can go for long periods without drinking—up to two weeks—and can consume large amounts of water when it is available.
Bactrian camels are well-adapted to cold, dry conditions and can go for long periods without drinking, but they require access to water every few days.
The mating season for camels generally occurs between late autumn and early spring.
Females give birth to a single calf (rarely twins) after a gestation period of about 13 months.
The newborn camel weighs about 25 kg (55 lb.) and can stand within 30 minutes of birth.
A calf's coat is brown or fawn at birth, but it lightens to a creamy white within two weeks.
Young camels stay close to their mothers until they are weaned at about 18 months.
Males reach sexual maturity at about three years of age, while females mature a bit earlier, at two to three years.
A camel can live up to 40 years in the wild but typically only lives 20-25 years in captivity.
Distribution & Habitat
The dromedary camel can be found throughout the desert areas of North Africa, the Middle East, and northern India. While the Bactrian camel is found in Central Asia.
Both species are well-suited to their arid habitats and can go long periods without drinking water.
Camels are primarily active during the cooler hours and rest during the day's heat.
They typically live in small herds of 10-20 individuals but congregate in larger groups when searching for food or water.
Photo: Carlos Leret via Unsplash
The dromedary camel is not considered to be at risk of extinction. However, the Bactrian camel is "Critically Endangered" by the IUCN Red List.
The primary threat to the Bactrian camel is habitat loss due to human settlement and agricultural expansion. These activities have led to a decrease in suitable grassland habitats for the camel.
The Bactrian camel is also hunted for its meat and fur. Conservation efforts are underway to help protect this species from extinction.
Other Interesting Facts
Now that you know a little bit more about camels, here are some interesting facts that you may not have known:
- Camels store fat in their humps, not water. They can go without water for long periods but will eventually die if they do not have access to food.
- A camel's hump(s) can provide the animal with enough energy to walk for about two weeks without food or water.
- Camels can close their nostrils and ear openings to keep out sand and dust.
- The pads on a camel's feet help it walk on soft sand without sinking.
- Camels have three eyelids to protect their eyes from the sand and sun of their desert habitats.
- The temperature of a camel's body is regulated by the amount of blood flowing to its skin. When it is hot, more blood flows to the skin to help cool the camel down.
- The average lifespan of a camel is 40 years.
- Camels are generally considered calm and docile animals, but they can be aggressive if provoked.
- Camels can run at speeds of up to 40 km/h (25 mph).
- A camel's coat comprises long, coarse hair protecting the animal from heat and cold. people can also use the skin for making rope and other materials.
- Camels can go without food or water for long periods, but they will eventually die if they do not have access to both.
Camels are fascinating animals that have a lot to offer. They are well-suited to their desert habitats and can provide us with milk, meat, and other products. We can ensure that these animals will be around for many years with proper conservation.
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