Scientific name: Camelus bactrianus ( bactrian) dromedarius (dromedary)
Conservation status: Wild Bactrian camel is at critical risk
Camels are a tall animal with ong legs and a coat that varies in colour from white to camel and many shades of brown. They live in harsh areas so they have certain adaptations that let them cope with their environment. They have two rows of long eyelashes that help keep sand and dust out and a third clear inner eyelid that allows them to keep sand out but still see in a sandstorm. Camels have quite small ears but good hearing and the ears have hairs inside to help keep the dust out. They are able to close their nostrils in order to keep sand out of their noses. They have a split lip which they use like fingers to strip leaves off the trees. Their thick coat reflects sunlight to help keep them cool in the desert. The camels long legs helps to keep their bodies further away from the hot ground and they have large soft feet so they wont sink into the sand. They have two toes on each foot joined by a tough web and leathery padded soles. Camels walk by moving both legs on each side of their bodies at the same time and this rolling action sometimes gives them the name “ships of the desert”.
The main difference between the two camel species is the number of humps that they have. The dromedary camel has only one hump while the bactrian camel has two. The humps are made of stored fat which the camels can use as an energy source when they can’t get food or water.
The average length of the camel is 2.3 to 3.5 metres (7.4 to 11.3 ft). Shoulder height is 1.8 to 2.3 metres (5.9 to 7.5 ft). The average weight is 300 to 690 kgs (660 to 1520 pounds).
The average lifespan of the camel is 50 years.
Camels are herbivores which means that they eat plants. They are very good at finding food in the harsh desert environment. They will eat vegetation such as thorny plants and salty plants. Each half of their split lip can move independently which means that they are able to get near the ground to eat short grasses as well.
Camels are ruminants like cows which means that they have four stomachs. They will eat their food and then regurgitate the partly eaten food from their stomachs and then eat it again.
In winter they may be able to get most of the moisture they need from the plants that they eat, but in captivitiy they need to drink quite a bit of water each day. When a camel has gone without water for a while when they do drink they soak up water like a sponge and can drink about 145 litres (32 gallons) of water at one drinking time.
Wild Bactrian camels are found in China and Mongolia. Dromedary camels only exist now as domesticated animals with most living in the Horn of Africa, Maghreb, Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, but were probably once native to North Africa and the Middle East. There is also a large population of feral dromedary camels in the central parts of Australia.
The habitat that they live in is deserts, prairies and steppe. Prairies and steppes are grassland habitats that unlike the savanna go through greater changes in temperature such as hot in the summer and cold in the winter.
After mating with a male (bull) camel, the female (cow) has a gestation period of about 13 months. The female will usually give birth to one calf with twins being quite rare. The new calf will weigh on average 37 kilograms (80 pounds) at birth and is able to walk within a few hours. The mother will produce milk for her calf and the calf will be weaned at about one year. Calves will stay close to their mother for the first five years of their life.
Males will reach the age of maturity at about 6 – 8 years while females will reach maturity at about 3 years.
Most people think that camels store water in their humps but it is actually stored fatty tissue that the camel can survive on in times when they can not get food or water. The camels are able to use it as a source of energy as it gives them water and fat to live on. When they use this fatty tissue the hump will shrink and go floppy. Camels are able to go for a week or more without water and they can go several months without food. They are able to lose 40% of their body weight and can drink up to 145 litres (32 gallons) of water at one time.
Camels moult in Spring and grow their new coat by Autumn, when they don’t need the thick coat to keep them warm like in the water.
Camels don’t begin to sweat until it gets very hot, this helps them to conserve water and not lose it all through perspiration in the desert environment.
Camels make a wide variety of sounds including bellows, grunts, roars, moans and growls.
Camels wool is of high quality and is used in the Arab world for clothing and rugs. Camels can be milked and some dairy herds are kept in the Middle East.
Many people think that camels spit but they are actually bringing up the contents of their stomach along with salivia and project it out, to scare or distract whatever is threatening them at the time.
The kidneys and intestines of a camel are really good at retaining water, their dung is very dry and their urine comes out like a thick syrup.
Camels can carry an extra 90 kgs (200 pounds) when walking 32 kms (20 miles) in the hot desert making them good for transporting things. They can travel as fast as a horse.
Camels can go for periods of time without eating or drinking by using the fat stored in their humps.