When you think of camels, the first image that inadvertently comes to mind is a caravan of camels running briskly through a sandy desert. But how much do you know them?
Origins and Types
Camels belong to the family Camelidae, genus Camelus, and are large creatures ideally suited to live in a harsh, arid climate. There are two distinct species of camels, the Dromedary camel with one hump, and the Bactrian camel with two humps.
The Dromedaries, who are also known as Arabian camels, are found all over the hot deserts of west Asia and northern Africa, and Australia. The other species, the Bactrians, are native to Central Asia, found mainly in the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts.
Adult camels can grow up to 6-7 feet at shoulder height and weigh around 1600 lb. Their life expectancy is approximately 50 years. Their gestation period lasts anywhere between 11-12 months, and newborn camels are born without a hump.
Camels have padded feet, with two toes on each foot. They are ungulates, meaning hoofed mammals. Their widely placed feet are covered with leathery pads which enable them to run on sand without sinking into it. Thanks to these leathery pads, camels can walk or run almost noiselessly.
For such a huge animal, camels have a rather small pair of ears, but very well-developed hearing. The small tufts of hair on the ear trap and prevent fine dust and sand from entering and damaging the ears.
Their eyes are covered with two rows of long, bushy eyelashes designed for life in the desert and to keep the sand out.
Camels can seal their nostrils, ears, and mouth shut during a sandstorm to prevent sand particles from entering their bodies! Their nostrils have the unique ability of trapping water vapor and returning it to the body, thereby preventing loss of water due to respiration.
Camels are herbivorous, and their diet consists of grass, oats, and dates. Equipped with a very strong tongue and mouth, camels can easily chew on thorny desert plants.
Their lips are cleaved in a particular way which makes it easier for them to graze. Camels consume food high in salt content, and can even drink extremely salty water. Domesticated camels are sometimes fed chunks of salt so their bodies get the required amount of salt.
The Ship Of The Desert
A camel can consume green plants and make up for the water requirements for its body. But at the same time, camels have been known to gulp down more than 30 gallons of water at one go!
Even though a camel may get dehydrated, its blood has the capacity to retain water and remain hydrated. Unlike other animals, where even 15% of water loss from the body can result in death, a camel can withstand fluid loss through perspiration by as much as 25%-40%.
It Is In Their Blood
Even though a camel may get dehydrated, its blood has the capacity to retain water and remain hydrated. Unlike other animals, where even 15% of water loss from the body can result in death, a camel can withstand fluid loss through perspiration by as much as 25%-40%. A camel's body temperature is around 93 °F during the day and 106 °F at night.
They can endure extremities in temperature. They sweat only when the body temperature crosses this limit. Since their bodies are covered by a thick layer of coat, the sweat, which evaporates at skin level, helps regulate the body heat and keeps it cool
Well-suited Internal Organs
The internal body organs of camels are well-developed to help them survive in hot climates and go without water. Their kidneys and intestines can hold back a large amount of water, as a result of which a camel's urine is as thick as syrup, and the feces is so dry that it is used as fuel by people who dwell in deserts.
Camels have very long legs, which help keep their bodies cool since they are at a good height above the ground. During very hot weather, camels prefer to walk rather than stand or sit. They walk with a swaying gait, and it is this undulating motion which gives them their famous nickname ship of the desert.
A funny fact to note here is they can kick their legs in all 4 directions, so if you accidentally instigate this otherwise docile beast, beware!
Lifeline Of The Desert People
Nomadic tribes living in the desert plains of Africa drink camel milk. It is also made into yogurt, butter, and cheese. Camel meat and even blood is considered a delicacy in some countries in the Middle East. The fur of the camel is also a prized commodity in these nations and is used to make clothing and rugs.
Trading Of Camels
There are places which hold camel festivals every year, most notable being the Pushkar Fair in India, the Al Dhafra Camel Festival in Abu Dhabi, and the Thousand Camel Festival in Mongolia. Apart from the usual contests featuring pedigree camels and camel races, these festivals also host camel beauty contests!
Importance Of Camels Throughout History
Camels have been used in wars for many centuries throughout the Middle East. During the Roman Empire, camels were also trained to supply troops food and ammunition.
In the United States, camels were in use in the Southwest, and the American Camel Corps was established in California where camels were used as pack animals. But with the advent of the Civil War, the Camel Corps disintegrated because the military felt that camels scared and posed a danger to their horses!
These amazing beasts can survive the toughest of climatic conditions, and have been a source of immense help to mankind all through the ages, by providing food and acting as a means of transport. Gentle when domesticated, yet fierce if provoked, these creatures are aptly named nature's true nomads.