Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
ferus (wild Bactrian, or two-humped)
ferus f. bactrianus (domestic Bactrian)
dromedarius (dromedary, or one-humped)
Body length: 7.4 to 11.3 feet (2.3 to 3.5 meters)
Shoulder height: 5.9 to 7.5 feet (1.8 to 2.3 meters)
Weight: 660 to 1,520 pounds (300 to 690 kilograms)
Life span: 50 years
Gestation: 12 to 14 months
Number of young at birth: 1, rarely 2
Weight at birth: about 80 pounds (37 kilograms)
Age of maturity: males—6 to 8 years; females—3 years
Conservation status: wild Bactrian camel is at critical risk.
Do camels really spit? They aren’t
actually spitting—it’s more like throwing up! They bring up
the contents of their stomachs, along with saliva, and project it out. This
is meant to surprise, distract, or bother whatever the camel feels is threatening
Camels make many sounds, including moaning and groaning sounds, high-pitched bleats, and loud bellows and roars. They also make a rumbling growl that was one of the noises used to create Chewbacca's voice in the Star Wars movies!
A feral population of dromedary camels lives in Australia. They were imported in the 19th century as pack animals and were used to cross the vast desert regions there.
As with giraffes, camels have a natural pacing gait, moving both legs from the same side of the body at the same time.
- Camel Tuya Moves Out
- Training Camel Tuya
- Baby Camel: Accepted
- Baby Camel: Unexpected Encounter
- Baby Camel Meets Adults
Listen to a camel’s groan
wild Bactrian camels in China and Mongolia (left map); dromedary camels currently in domestic situations only (right map), but probably were once native to North Africa and the Middle East.
Ships of the desert
Camels were domesticated more than 3,000 years ago, and to this day, humans depend on them for transport across arid environments. They can easily carry an extra 200 pounds (90 kilograms) while walking 20 miles (32 kilometers) a day in the harsh desert. They can travel as fast as horses but can also endure legendary periods of time without food or water. Humans have used camels for their wool, milk, meat, leather, and even dung that can be used for fuel.
The dromedary camel Camelus dromedarius, also known as the Arabian camel, exists today only as a domesticated animal. About 90 percent of the world’s camels are dromedaries. There are two types of the Bactrian camel: one wild (Camelus ferus) and one domesticated (Camelus ferus f. bactrianus). Wild Bactrians are much different from the domesticated Bactrians: they are trimmer, with smaller humps and less hair.
One hump or two?
The dromedary camel has one hump and the Bactrian camel has two. What’s the easiest way to remember? Think of the capital letter “D” laying on its side: “D” stands for “dromedary.” Now think of the capital letter “B” on its side: “B” for Bactrian! But what’s in those humps? They store fat, not water. The fat becomes an energy source.
The length of time camels can survive on this stored energy depends on climate and their activity levels. The size of the hump can change, depending on the amount of food the camel eats. When food is scarce, the camel’s body uses the fat stored in the hump, causing it to lean over and droop.
Camels can go a week or more without water, and they can last for several months without food. They can survive a 40 percent body weight loss and then drink up to 32 gallons (145 liters) of water at one drinking session!
At home in the sand
Swirling desert sand can be a problem for most of us, but camels have special adaptations for the pesky stuff. A thin nictitating membrane on the eye, like a clear inner eyelid, protects the eye from sandstorms while still letting in enough light for camels to see.
Double rows of extra-long eyelashes also help keep sand out of the eyes. And camels can close their nostrils to keep sand out of their noses! Their large, broad feet do not sink in desert sand or snow.
Bactrian camels, native to the Gobi Desert in China and the Bactrian steppes of Mongolia, grow a shaggy coat in the winter for protection from the freezing cold, then shed the coat during the hot summer. These camels can survive a wide range of temperatures, from minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 degrees Celsius) in the winter to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) in the summer!
Food in the Desert
Camels are very clever at finding food in their harsh desert environment. Each half of the split upper lip moves independently, so they can get near the ground for eating short grass. They also eat vegetation such as thorns or salty plants, and they will even eat fish. Camels are ruminants, like cows, and then later they regurgitate it back up from their stomachs to chew it again. When they do that, smelly gasses come up as well, making for some pretty potent breath! At the San Diego Zoo, the camels eat hay, pellets, browse, carrots, and yams.
Beast of Burden
Camels have been used by humans since ancient times. They were even brought to the United States in the mid-1800s as a potential source of transportation across the West, as well as a replacement for beef cattle. Today, if the nomads of the Saharan region continue their traditional way of life, they will need the dromedary camels for milk, wool, and transport. Bactrian camels, however, are facing a decline in the wild as they are hunted for sport or killed because they compete with domestic camels and livestock for grazing and watering spots. Their habitat is also being taken over by illegal mining operations. There are currently about 600 Bactrian camels in China and about 350 in Mongolia. The Wild Camel Protection Foundation was established in 1997 and has set up a natural reserve in China for wild Bactrians.