Camels Dromedary & Bactrian Camels

Camel Walking

Photo: Dromedary Camel in the desert

Camels are large animals with a humped back, long legs, flat feet, long curved necks, and big-lipped snouts that live in arid habitats. There are two types of camels. Dromedary camels have one hump, and Bactrian camels have two.

The dromedary camel makes up about 95% of the world's camel population. The Bactrian camel makes up about 5% of the camels in the world.

A feral camel is a wild camel that is a descendant of a domesticated camel. They are found in Australia and USA. The largest camel population in the wild are the feral camels of Australia.

How Does a Camel Walk?


Types of Camels Camels with One Hump or Two?

Dromedary Camel (One Hump Camel)

Dromedary camels, also known as Arabian camels, are the tallest of all camel species. They are predominately brown in colour but can range from black to almost white. Their fur (called 'camel hair') is short, except for longer, thicker concentrations on the throat, shoulders, and hump. They can be easily identified by their single hump. Adult male Dromedary camels are about 1.8 to 2 m tall at the shoulder and weigh approximately 400 to 600 kg. Females are about 1.7 to 1.9 m at the shoulders and weigh 300 to 540 kg.

Dromedary camels were originally native to the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Today, they are found in many parts of the world, including India, Australia and the USA.

Bactrian Camel (Two Hump Camel)

Bactrian Camels, also known as Mongolian camels, can be identified by their distinctive twin humps. Because they live in colder climates, they have more hair, shorter legs, and are more solidly built than their dromedary cousins. They are the largest species of camel and can weigh up to 1,000 kg.

Bactrian Camels are native to parts of Central Asia but are also found in China, India, Australia and the USA. Wild Bactrian camels are endangered, with only about 1,000 surviving in the wild. In addition, there are about a million domesticated Bactrian camels.


Camel Characteristics What Does a Camel Look Like?

Camels have long, curved necks. They have large eyes with excellent vision, which allows them to spot danger 4-5 kilometres away. The eyes sit below prominent eyebrow ridges and bushy eyebrows that protect their eyes from the sun. In addition, it has long double-layered eyelashes to keep the sun and sand out of its eyes. Besides its outer eyelids, the camel also has an inner eyelid, called a nictitating membrane, composed of a thin membrane that allows it to see during a sandstorm.

Camels have a good sense of smell and can close their nostrils to keep out blowing sand. Its nose has special nasal cavities to moisten air on the way in and trap moisture going out. Their ears are small and rounded, with hair inside and out to prevent sand from entering their ears.

Camels have large, tough prehensile lips, with the upper lip split into two halves, which enables them to pick at dry and thorny desert vegetation. The inside of its mouth is lined with hard, cone-shaped protrusions called papillae to help it eat tough foods such as thorny plants. Their incisors and canine teeth grow throughout life. Male camels foam at the mouth when excited. They also have a soft palate that they can inflate to produce a deep pink sac that dangles from one side of the mouth to attract females during the mating season. This pink sac is often mistaken for the animal's tongue.

Camels spit when provoked. Actually, they aren't true 'spitters' like humans. Instead, they are more 'flingers'. A camel's spit is not composed of only saliva. Instead, the camel burps up some of its stomach contents into its mouth, mixes it with saliva, and then flings the mixture from its flappy lips at its opponent. This foul-smelling sticky concoction is definitely not something you want to be covered in.

The camel has a single hump or a double hump on top of its back. Contrary to popular belief, it does not store water in its hump. Instead, this hump is composed of fibrous tissue and fat. It is a store of energy. The size of the hump varies depending on the fat stored in it. The hump is about 20 cm high when fully extended and can store up to 36kgs of fat, which the camel can break down into water and energy when required. The hump nearly disappears and flops over when the fat store is used up.

Even though the top of a camel’s hump is the highest point of the animal's body, its height is measured at the shoulders. This is because the height of the hump varies, going up and down depending on the fat stored inside it.

The camel has long, powerful legs with large two-toed feet that have thick, flexible footpads that spread out, allowing them to easily walk on soft sand and gravel. But these particular adaptations provide little traction on slippery and muddy surfaces.


Camel Walking and Running How A Camel Walks and Runs

Camel Walking Video

Watch Video

Camels walk in a rocking motion by moving both legs on one side of the body simultaneously. That is to say. The front and back legs on one side of the body are moved forward at the same time, rather than one front and one back leg like most other animals. This unusual gait of the camel is called ‘pacing’.

The camel's walking stride is long and slow, with the body supported for much of each stride on the grounded legs on one side of the body. Camels can run at 40 kph for extended periods and sprint at 67 km/h for short periods. They can walk up to 160km a day.

See a Video of How a Camel Walks


Camel's Special Adaptations

Camels have several special adaptations especially suited for their dry environments.

Photo: Camels in the desert

• Camels have a third transparent eyelid to protect their eyes and can close their nostrils during sandstorms.
• Camels can endure temperatures from -29°C to over 49°C.
• Their long legs keep their bodies elevated further away from the hot ground to reduce overheating.
• They can adjust their body temperature in a range of 34-40°C. By doing this, the animal can minimise sweating and conserve body fluids.
• To conserve water, camels only sweat when their body temperature reaches 41-42°C. Until that temperature threshold is reached, they allow their body temperature to rise with that of their environment.
• The camel's red blood cells are oval.  This shape allows the red blood cells to flow more easily, even when the animal is dehydrated.
• It can tolerate a loss of water equal to over 30% of body weight (a human can only survive a 15% loss)
• Its urine is highly concentrated, and its dung is dry to save water.


Camel Habitat & Distribution Where Do Camels Live?

Photo: Diagram of distribution of camels worldwide

Camels live in some of the driest, hottest and most barren parts of the world. Their natural habitats are in the deserts, prairies and steppes of the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. They can survive in environments with temperatures of minus 29 degrees C ( 20 degrees F) to 49 degrees C (120 degrees F). They prefer flat sandy environments.

Camels are non-territorial and wander widely, travelling as much as 70 km a day depending on the available food, water, and summer shade. During winter, camels prefer open plains, salt marshes, and lakes. In summer, they prefer dense bush environments with trees to shade them from the blistering heat.

The world's largest population of wild camels live in central Australia's deserts. These include the Great Sandy, Gibson, Great Victoria, and Simpson deserts of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, western Queensland, and northern South Australia – an area of 3.3 million sq km.

About the Feral Camel in Australia


Camel Diet What Do Camels Eat?

camel eating

Photo: Camel feeding on desert scrubs

Camels eat almost any available plant. They eat grasses, leaves, twigs from plants, cacti and saltbushes. They are definitely not picky about what plants they eat. It is claimed that a starving camel will eat almost anything including bones, ropes, leather products, and even canvas tents.

Camels use their thick prehensile lips to grab their food, breaking off branches or stripping off leaves in one movement. Camels eat only a few leaves from each plant and reduces the stress on the plant. This foraging behaviour is believed to have evolved to prevent killing its food source by over-grazing and to reduce the risk of consuming any particular plant toxin in large quantities by foraging on the widest variety of foliage.

How Long Can a Camel Go Without Water?

A camel can survive a week or so without water. It can drink as much as 145 litres of water in one drinking session at a rate of about 10 litres per minute. In similar conditions, cattle lose water 3 times faster than camels do.

A camel can also survive for several months without food.

Camels feed for 6-8 hours each day. Being ruminants, like cows, they spend another 6-8 hours each day ruminating (chewing the cud). They do this by regurgitating food from their stomachs to chew it again. Where the food they consume is high in water content, camels don't need to drink water.

When food and water become scarce, the camel extracts energy and water from fat stored in its hump. The longer a camel goes without eating or drinking, the more visibly deflated its hump becomes.


Camel Reproduction & Life Cycle Camel Babies

Photo: Camel mother and baby

A camel gives birth to a single calf about 12-14 months after mating. Just before giving birth, she removes herself from the herd and withdraws to a quiet place covered with vegetation to give birth. The newborn calf has no hump when it is born. Instead, it has some loose skin on top of its back covered with curly hair where the hump will eventually form. The new calf can walk within half an hour. The mother and calf remain away from the herd for two weeks before they return. The calf is nursed for about 10-18 months, after which it becomes totally independent.

The infant mortality rate amongst baby camels is about 30%. It is claimed that nearly half the deaths are caused by aggressive male camels that forcefully separate females from their calves to mate with them.

A camel reaches adulthood in about 7 years. The average life expectancy of a camel is 40 to 50 years.


Camel Predators and Threats What Endangers the Camel?

Because of their large size and the arid environments in which they live, camels have no natural predators. Deaths are primarily caused by old age or prolonged drought, where the animals starve to death. There are also reports of infanticide, where bulls during mating season are openly hostile towards newborn calves, forcing the cow away from the calf after birth, leading to the calf's death.

From time to time, various local and state governments initiate culling campaigns to reduce camel numbers. Camels are also harvested for their meat, which is used in pet food.

25 Camel Facts

  1. There are two types of camels. Dromedary camels have one hump, and Bactrian have two.
  2. A camel's hump does not contain water. It is made up of fibrous tissue and fat.
  3. The hump nearly disappears and flops over when the fat store in it is used up.
  4. The height of a camel is measured at its shoulders, not its hump, because the hump size varies.
  5. Dromedary camels are the tallest. Bactrian camels are the largest.
  6. Dromedary camels live in hot climates. The Bactrian lives in cold climates.
  7. They both live in arid to semi-arid environments.
  8. Camels can endure temperatures from -29°C to over 49°C.
  9. The largest population of wild camels in the world live in the deserts of central Australia.
  10. They have excellent eyesight and can spot danger 4-5 km away.
  11. Unlike most animals, camels move both legs on one side of the body at the same time, when they walk and run.
  12. Camels can run at 40kph for long periods. And sprint to 67 kph.
  13. They can walk up to 160km a day.
  14. Camels can close their nostrils to keep out blowing sand.
  15. Their ears are hairy inside and out to prevent sand from entering.
  16. Camels eat almost any available plant.
  17. They feed for 6-8 hours and chew the cud for another 6-8 hours.
  18. A camel can survive for a week without water.
  19. It can drink up to 145 litres in one go.
  20. Male camels foam at the mouth when excited.
  21. The ugly pink thing dangling out of the camel's mouth is not its tongue. It is an inflated sac of the upper part of its mouth.
  22. When provoked, camels don't spit. They fling a smelly mixture of regurgitated stomach content and saliva at their antagonists.
  23. The camel's red blood cells are oval, which flows better when it is in a dehydrated state.
  24. Its urine is highly concentrated and its dung is dry to save water.
  25. Camels live for 40 to 50 years.