Factors that help camels survive in the desert

Camels originally evolved from the animal ‘protylopus’ that lived millions of years ago in North America. Eventually they found their way into Asia where they now thrive in the millions. Their unique biological functions and structure makes them well adapted to dry desert areas and are often called ‘the ship of the desert’. In this article, these advantageous bodily traits are explained in detail.

Camels belong to the family camelidae and are closely related to other animals in this family such as llamas and alpacas. Depending on the species of the animal, camels can have either one hump or two. They are found mainly in the desert regions of the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Camels are believed to have originated in North America (the rabbit-sized Protylopus that lived millions of years ago) and later Asia.

The biology of Camels

Camels are found in dry desert regions and their bodies are well adapted to these hot humid conditions. These animals are of two types – the one-humped camels (Dromedary camels) and the two-humped ones (Bactrian camels). The average adult camel is 6 feet tall; the humps add a foot or so to the height. A running camel can reach speeds of up to 65 kmph, which is why the camel racing sport is so popular. For the following reasons, the camel has often been termed 'the ship of the desert':-

  • The most striking feature of a camel is – you guessed it – its hump. These are located on the animal's back and while popularly believed to store water, the humps are actually made up of fatty tissue. This keeps the fat, and hence heat away from the rest of the body, helping the camel deal with the harsh desert temperature. This tissue (when converted by the oxygen acquired through breathing) helps provide the camel with energy.

  • Camels can survive for very long periods without drinking water. At one go, they can consume up to 150 litres of water! This seemingly unbelievable feat is made possible through the size of the animals' red blood cells, which unlike any other mammal, are oval and not round. These strong cells allow for the storage of such a tremendous amount of water without bursting. When the animals breathe, the water that would be lost into the air is directed back into the body with the help of the camel's nostrils.

  • Camels can withstand gruelling temperatures – up to 41 °C in the daytime and 34 °C at night. As a result, the animals rarely sweat, which means less water loss.

  • The eyelashes of the camel are longer than found in other animals and served to protect the eyes from the blowing sand. The nostrils can also close for the same purpose. Camel legs are long so that their bodies are not close to the hot desert sand. Even the hide or skin of the animal protects it from the sand.

  • Since camels live in deserts, their mouths have become adapted to eating cacti and thorny bushes.

  • Camels have a single toe and wider feet than most other animals which makes walking on sand a lot easier for them. Their style of walking also keeps them from sinking into the sand with every step they take.

The domestication of Camels

Camels have been domesticated over the centuries to help man carry heavy items and the name 'camel' itself is believed to have found its root in ancient Greece from the verb 'to carry'. There are about 14 million Dromedary camels and 1.5 million Bactrian camels around today. Camels are an essential part of local life and provide milk, meat and transport.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, camels were used in the regiment of the United States, France, Britain and Spain. Camels still serve in the cavalry of countries around the world such as India, Africa and the Middle East.


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