The iconic camel often conjures up images of nomads and sheiks. Because of a number of unique adaptations, these creatures are built to withstand extreme temperatures, so it's no surprise that camels call the desert their home.
Camels are large mammals covered in light brown or beige fur. Two types of camels exist: the dromedary (one-hump) and the Bactrian (two-hump) camels. Their bodies use these humps to store fat. Camels can weigh from 230 to 680 kilograms (500 to 1,500 pounds) and can grow to be about 2 meters (6 feet) tall at the shoulder. They have long, slender legs, a long neck and characteristically large lips. Camels are typically gentle creatures when well treated.
Where They Live
Dromedary camels live in the dry desert climates of the Sahara Desert of Northern Africa, the Middle East, Southwestern Asia and in Indian desert areas. Large populations of wild dromedary camels also live in the Australian outback. The ancestors of these camels were introduced to the continent in 1840 and were originally meant for transportation use. Bactrian camels are native to the rocky deserts of Central and East Asia.
Bactrian Camel Adaptations
What makes camels so fascinating is that they have a number of adaptations that enable them to survive in extreme temperatures. Bactrian camels store fat in their two humps, which can be converted to water and energy and enable the camel to go long periods without water. Bactrian camels also have flaps over their nostrils to protect them from the sand. They must endure bitterly cold desert nights, which is why they have a shaggy fur coat to keep them warm. As the weather changes, the coats shed.
Dromedary Camel Adaptations
Dromedary camels also store fat in their hump that can be used for water and energy. They have long eyelashes, bushy eyebrows and a pair of inner eyelids to protect their eyes from the sand. They also have wide feet that help to keep them from sinking into the sand. Like Bactrian camels, dromedaries also have flaps over their nostrils to keep the sand out.
Camels are herbivores, often eating grasses. Their mouths are lined with thick skin that allows them to chew up thorny plants, which other animals are unable to eat. A camel can stretch its neck to reach tree limbs more than 3 meters (11 feet) high. Like cows, camels are ruminant eaters, meaning that they swallow their food first and then spit it up later to chew as cud.
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