Camel Facts

Scientific Name: Camelus

Camel
One-humped camel walking in the desert.

 Bashar Shglila/Moment/Getty Images

Camels are mammals known for their distinctive humped backs. Bactrian camels (Camelus bactrianus) have two humps, while dromedary camels (Camelus dromedarius) have one. These creatures' humps store fat deposits that they use as sustenance when external food and water sources are scarce. Their ability to metabolize stored food for prolonged periods of time makes them good pack animals.

Fast Facts: Camel

  • Scientific Name: Camelus
  • Common Name: Camel
  • Basic Animal Group: Mammals
  • Size: 6–7 feet in height
  • Weight: 800–2300 pounds
  • Life Span: 15–50 years
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Habitat: Deserts in Central Asia (Bactrian) and North Africa and the Middle East (Dromedary)
  • Population: 2 million domesticated Bactrian camels, 15 million domesticated dromedary camels, and less than 1,000 wild Bactrian camels
  • Conservation Status: The wild Bactrian camel is classified as Critically Endangered. Other camel species are not considered endangered.

Description

Camels are well-known for their distinctive humps, but they also have other distinctive characteristics that make them well-suited for living in desert conditions. Importantly, camels have the ability to close their nostrils to prevent sand infiltration. They also have two rows of long lashes and a third eyelid. Both structures help to protect their eyes in harsh environments such as sandstorms. They also have thick hair that helps to protect them from the intense sunshine in their environment as well as padded feet to help withstand the hot temperatures of the desert floor. They are even-toed ungulates (hoofed mammals).

Camel
Two-humped Camel.  Elena Kholopova/EyeEm/Getty Images

Camels are usually between 6 and 7 feet in height and 9 to 11 feet in length. They can weigh up to 2300 pounds. Other physical characteristics of camels include long legs, long necks, and a protruding snout with big lips.

Habitat and Distribution

Bactrian camels live in Central Asia while dromedary camels live in North Africa and the Middle East. Wild bactrian camels live in south Mongolia and northern China. They are all typically found in desert regions, although they may also live in other similar environments like prairies.

While we associate camels with extremely hot temperature environments, their habitat can also include extremely low temperature environments. They form a protective coat in the winter to help with the cold and shed the coat in the summer months.

Diet and Behavior

Camels are diurnal creatures, which means they are active during the day. They subsist on vegetation like low-lying grasses and other thorny and salty plants. To reach such low-lying plants and grasses, camels have developed a split upper lip structure so that each half of their upper lip can move independently, which helps them eat low-lying plants and grasses. Similar to cows, camels regurgitate food from their stomach back up to their mouths so they can chew it again. Camels can hydrate themselves faster than other mammals. They have been purported to drink approximately 30 gallons of water in a little over 10 minutes.

Reproduction and Offspring

Camels travel in herds made up of one dominant male and a number of females. A male bull's peak fertility, called rut, occurs at various times during the year based on species. (Bactrian's fertility peak occurs from November through May, while dromedaries can peak throughout the year.) Males will usually mate with half a dozen or so females, although some males can mate with over 50 females in one season.

Female camels have a gestation period of 12 to 14 months. When it is time to give birth, the expectant mother typically separates from the main herd. Newborn calves can walk shortly after birth, and after a period of a few weeks alone, the mother and calf rejoin the larger herd. Single births are most common, but twin camel births have been reported.

Threats

The wild Bactrian camel is threatened mainly by illegal hunting and poaching. Predator attacks as well as mating with domesticated Bactrian camels are also threats to the wild Bactrian camel population.

Conservation Status

Wild Bactrian camels (Camelus ferus) are designated as critically endangered by the IUCN. Fewer than 1000 animals are left in the wild with a decreasing population. By comparison, there are an estimated 2 million domesticated Bactrian camels.

Species

There are two main species of camel: Camelus bactrianus and Camelus dromedarius. C. bactrianus have two humps, while C. dromedarius have one. A third species, Camelus ferus, is closely related to C. bactrianus but lives in the wild.

Camels and Humans

Humans and camels have a long history together. Camels have been used as pack animals for centuries and were likely domesticated in the Arabian peninsula between 3000 and 2500 BC. Due to their unique features that allow them to withstand desert travel, camels helped to facilitate trade.

Sources

  • “Camel.” San Diego Zoo Global Animals and Plants, animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/camel.
  • “Camel Breeding.” Breeding Camels, camelhillvineyard.com/camel-breeding.htm.