Camel Facts

14 Camel Facts About the Humped Desert Beasts

Camels, native to desert regions, possess remarkable physical and behavioral characteristics that enable them to thrive in places where many other species would struggle.

Consider, for example, their exceptional ability to consume large amounts of water efficiently. They can drink up to 30 gallons in less than 15 minutes, ensuring they stay hydrated in arid climates. 

Furthermore, contrary to common belief, their iconic humps do not store water but serve as fat deposit reserves. These fat reserves provide camels with a much-needed energy source in an environment with limited food resources. 

You’ll know all these and much more as you read through our top camel facts. Or click on over to our desert quotes to get in the mood.

14 Amazing Camel Facts

camel during daytime
Photo by Saj Shafique on Unsplash

1. There are only two species of camels.

Did you know that camels have only two species, characterized by the number of humps on their backs? The dromedary camel (Camelus Dromedarius) or Arabian camel is famous for having only one hump, becoming an emblematic symbol of Middle Eastern and North African deserts.

On the other hand, the lesser-known Bactrian camels (Camelus Bactrianus) or Asian Camels boast two humps. These resilient creatures have evolved to thrive in the harsh environments of Central Asia, living in Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

The differences between Dromedary and Bactrian Camels extend beyond their physical appearance and reflect their unique evolutionary paths5. For instance, dromedary camels have roamed the arid landscapes of the Middle East and North Africa for centuries. Their remarkable stamina, strength, and ability to go without water for extended periods have made them valuable partners.

In a fascinating contrast, Bactrian camels have adapted to the rugged terrains of Central Asia, especially in the Gobi Desert. Their two humps help them face the region's scorching summer heat and freezing winter. Humans have domesticated both the dromedary and Bactrian camels.

2. Camels have adapted to the desert.

camel on white sand
Photo by Mohamed Hashif on Unsplash

Camels have evolved fascinating features that enable them to thrive in harsh environments. Take, for instance, their unique eye structure2. These animals have three sets of eyelids and two rows of eyelashes, protecting their eyes from the elements.

These triple eyelids act like windshield wipers, sweeping away pesky sand particles that slip past the dense, double-layered lashes. Thanks to these formidable natural barriers, camels can navigate the challenging terrain without being hindered by sand getting into their eyes.

But their incredible adaptations don't stop there. In addition to their impressive eye structure, camels can close their nostrils to guard their respiratory system against the onslaught of sand and dust during sandstorms. These desert-dwellers can seal off their nasal passages with flexible, muscular nostrils. 

Besides, camels possess thick skin pads on their chest and knees, allowing them to sit or lie on scorching hot sand without getting burned.

This anatomical feature is handy, as camels often take a break during the hottest parts of the day to conserve energy.

3. Camels don't store water in their humps.

One of the most misunderstood camel facts involves the camel's hump. Contrary to popular belief, camels don't store water in their humps. Instead, camel humps serve as vital reservoirs for fat.

As these resilient creatures journey through arid environments, their bodies metabolize the stored fat, supplying vital energy and generating water via oxidation. This remarkable feature enables dromedary camels to survive without sustenance for extended periods, sometimes several weeks.

Interestingly, the fat stored in these humps can weigh as much as 80 pounds (36 kg) in a fully-grown camel. However, this weight isn't static. As the camel ventures further into the desert, expending energy, its fat reserves deplete, causing the humps to shrink and become somewhat flabby.

When the camel finally has the opportunity to eat and drink, its humps regain their original size and shape. This ingenious energy storage system, found in species such as the dromedary and Bactrian camels, allows them to thrive in the driest regions of our planet.

4. They can conserve water and hydrate quickly.

group of camels
Photo by Graphe Tween on Unsplash

Camels can hydrate when water becomes available. These extraordinary creatures can drink an impressive 30 gallons of water in just 13 minutes, allowing them to make the most of the scarce desert resources.

The dromedary camel employs a unique biological adaptation called heterothermy, which helps them regulate body temperature throughout the day and minimize water loss through sweating.

Their dense coats insulate them against the cold and reflect sunlight in the hot desert, preventing overheating during the hottest hours. Moreover, camels possess specialized red blood cells and a unique circulatory system that helps minimize water loss through respiration and perspiration.

Due to these adaptations, camels can survive up to two weeks without water and in extreme conditions.

5. Camels have unusual sleep routines.

Another interesting camel fact is that they have a rather peculiar sleep pattern. In a 6- or 7-hour night, they only sleep for around 1.7 hours, comprising a mix of REM and non-REM sleep. Meanwhile, they also undergo periods of drowsiness, rumination, and alertness.

This distinctive sleep arrangement allows camels to stay vigilant in their surroundings, an essential adaptation for their unpredictable desert habitat. Interestingly, drowsiness, part of a camel's sleep cycle, is crucial in maintaining attentiveness.

The camel can rest standing up or lying down. When lying down, camels usually rest on their side, curling their heads on their necks or humps for added comfort. In contrast, sleeping upright enables camels to conserve energy and respond quickly to potential disturbances.

6. They can eat the spikiest of plants.

camel eating
Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

Camels' diet mainly consists of desert plants. As herbivores, they've gained a unique knack for consuming and digesting various types of vegetation, which many other creatures might find challenging or downright impossible to eat.

The key to their success in foraging isn't some hidden superpower. Their tough mouths, thick lips, and specialized teeth handle even the spikiest plants without getting hurt. While their customized teeth play a significant role, camels, like the domesticated Bactrian camels, also boast a unique digestive system that assists them in breaking down fibrous and robust plant matter.

Equipped with a three-chambered stomach, they efficiently process cellulose—a crucial component in plant cell walls—and thus maximize nutrient extraction from their meals.

7. Camels have a unique gait.

camel's close up view
Photo by Roberto Martins on Unsplash

Often called the "ships of the desert," camels possess a unique gait that creates smooth, swaying movement. Unlike many quadruped mammals, these creatures simultaneously move both legs on one side of their body1.

This style, known as pacing or lateral walking, results in a steady, rhythmic motion. As a result, camels like the Arabian Camels can traverse large distances with minimal effort.

There's more to the camel's distinctive gait than just energy conservation, though. Pacing provides remarkable stability, especially on the shifting sands and rocky terrain typical of desert environments. By moving both legs on the same side, camels maintain a solid connection to the ground, minimizing the risk of slipping or losing balance.

Plus, their walking style kicks up less sand, a boon for visibility for the camel and anyone riding or handling it. They are fast runners, too, sprinting up to 40 miles per hour.

Did you enjoy the first half of our camel facts? Uncover more exciting ones below!

8. Male camels use an inflatable sac to attract a mate.

Male camels (or bulls) boast an extraordinary characteristic when attracting a mate. The male possesses an inflatable sac within their throat, called the doula or dulla. When a male camel detects a nearby female or cow, he inflates this sac, causing it to protrude from his mouth.

The swollen organ enables the male camel to emit a deep, resonating sound, commonly known as "gurgling" or "rumbling". This sound serves a dual purpose: enticing females and intimidating rival males.

Moreover, males spread urine on their tails and hind legs, producing a potent scent that appeals to potential mates. After a male successfully courts a female camel, the couple embarks on the protracted reproductive process.

Female camels have a gestation period lasting between 12 and 14 months, culminating in the birth of a single calf. Baby camels are generally born in the spring or early summer. Furthermore, these newborn camels come out with open eyes and demonstrate remarkable ability by standing and walking within mere hours of their birth.

10. Their milk is very nutritious.

Camel milk, although less popular than cow's milk, has a unique nutritional profile that sets it apart from its bovine counterpart. It's lower in fat, making it a healthier option for those watching their fat intake4. Furthermore, camel milk offers a wealth of essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, calcium, and iron, delivering numerous health benefits.

People in desert areas particularly benefit from camel milk's rich nutritional content, as it supplies vital nutrients in environments with limited resources. Desert communities don't just drink camel milk; they also use it in various culinary applications. It's a staple food in many such communities, and they often make cheese and ice cream from it.

11. They are excellent working animals.

brown and white camels
Photo by Grant Durr on Unsplash

Camels have become indispensable work animals in harsh desert environments for ages. Their incredible strength stems from their unique features, such as their wide, padded feet for traversing sandy terrain, muscular legs, and sturdy skeletal structure.

With remarkable endurance, camels can travel vast distances without needing frequent rest. This characteristic makes them invaluable for nomadic communities that rely on them for transportation, trade, and agricultural tasks.

Because of the camels' long history with humans, certain cultures greatly cherish these desert creatures. For instance, UAE hosts an annual Camel Festival to celebrate the importance of camels in the country's culture and heritage.

12. Camels live long.

Camels can live up to 50 years. Domesticated camels usually outlive their wild counterparts, thanks to the consistent care, nourishment, and protection humans provide.

Wild camels, on the other hand, face a tougher existence. Scarce resources and predators contribute to their shorter lifespans.

In many societies, camels' exceptional longevity underscores their cultural and economic importance. Some cultures even believe that a camel's age reflects its wisdom and knowledge, leading to people holding older camels in high esteem.

13. Camels spit when threatened.

camel on brown sand
Photo by Megan Schultz on Unsplash

Contrary to what many believe, camels spit when provoked or threatened. When threatened, these desert animals expel cud, a partially digested mixture of food, digestive enzymes, and stomach acids, from one of their three stomach compartments.

Camels can precisely aim and project their regurgitated concoction, covering several feet when needed. This accuracy allows them to target perceived threats effectively. The strong, unpleasant odor and the potential for skin and eye irritation from the regurgitated mixture make it a powerful deterrent.

To avoid unfortunate encounters, it's a good idea to give camels their space and not provoke them.

14. Bactrian camels are under threat.

The wild Bactrian camel population has experienced a staggering decline, leaving fewer than 1,000 individuals in their natural habitats. They are now at the top of the conservation priority list as a critically endangered species.

The main focus of this vital work is habitat preservation, which is crucial to counteract the numerous threats they face, such as shrinking habitats due to human encroachment, infrastructure development, and the far-reaching consequences of climate change3.

Captive breeding programs have become a crucial lifeline for the dwindling wild Bactrian camel population. Notably, the Wild Camel Protection Foundation has started these initiatives to protect these camels. These initiatives strive to maintain genetic diversity among the remaining individuals, ensuring the preservation of a healthy population for future reintroduction efforts.

Alongside this work, conservationists are tackling the delicate issue of human-wildlife conflict, seeking ways to foster coexistence between wild Bactrian camels and the communities that inhabit their surroundings.

What are your favorite camel facts? Share it on your social media feeds, and tag us!

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with C.

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1

Janis, C., Theodor, J., & Boisvert, B. (2002) Locomotor evolution in camels revisited: a quantitative analysis of pedal anatomy and the acquisition of the pacing gait, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 22:1, 110-121,  

2

Abedellaah, B., Sharshar, A., Shoghy, K., & Rashed, R. (2017). NORMAL OCULAR STRUCTURE OF DROMEDARY CAMEL (CAMELUS DROMEDARIES): GROSS, ULTRASONOGRAPHIC AND COMPUTED. . . ResearchGate.

3

Hare, J. (2008). The wild Bactrian camel Camelus bactrianus ferus in China: the need for urgent action. Oryx, 42(1), 20-25.

4

Al haj, O. A., & Al Kanhal, H. A. (2010). Compositional, technological and nutritional aspects of dromedary camel milk. International Dairy Journal, 20(12), 811-821.

5

Wu, H., Guang, X., Al-Fageeh, M. B., Cao, J., Pan, S., Zhou, H., ... & Zhang, G. (2014). Camelid genomes reveal evolution and adaptation to desert environments. Nature Communications, 5, 5188.

Chinny Verana is a degree-qualified marine biologist and researcher passionate about nature and conservation. Her expertise allows her to deeply understand the intricate relationships between marine life and their habitats.

Her unwavering love for the environment fuels her mission to create valuable content for TRVST, ensuring that readers are enlightened about the importance of biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation efforts.

Fact Checked By:
Mike Gomez, BA.

Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash
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