The Ships of the Desert

Published by in science
27th May 2008

I had always been fascinated with camels since I was a child. It made me wonder how they survive in the vast, dry and hot deserts. Camels are often referred to as “ships of the desert” because they carry freight and people across long distance. Here are some notable facts about camels.

The most expensive camel was worth $2.7 million bought early this year by Dubai’s crown prince, Sheik al-Maktoum. The camel was used in a desert festival celebrating Bedouin traditions in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Camels can go for three weeks without water while loaded camels can last up to 3 – 4 days.

In one drink, a camel drinks 100 liters to 150 liters of water.

Camels can run 65 km/h (40 mph) in short burst and can sustain speed at 40 km/h (25 mph).

Ironic it seems but camels can swim.

Their double rows of long eyelashes, ear hairs and sealable nostril are barriers against sand.

Camel’s mouth is very sturdy capable of chewing thorny desert plants.

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Camels are ill-tempered and are known to spit at people, bite and kick.

Camel’s kidneys and intestines are very efficient in retaining water. Their urine comes out as thick syrup and their feces are so dry that they can fuel fires.

Their hair is shorn and used to make rugs, ropes, garments, and tents.

Camels don’t store water in their humps as commonly believed. Humps are reservoir of fatty tissue. When the tissue is metabolized, it acts as a source of energy.

Their ability to withstand long period without water is due to a series of physical adaptations. Their red blood cells have an oval shape, unlike those of other mammals, which are circular. This is to facilitate their flow in a dehydrated state.

They seldom sweat, when they do only at the skin level not at the surface of their coat. This ability to fluctuate body temperature and the efficiency of their sweating allows them to preserve about 5 liters of water a day.

A feature of their nostrils is that a large amount of water vapor in their exhalations is trapped and returned to their body fluids, thereby reducing the amount of water lost through respirations.

They can withstand at least 20-25% weight loss due to sweating (most mammals 3-4% only). A camel’s blood remains hydrated.

Camel’s thick coat reflects sunlight. Their long legs help by keeping them further from the hot ground.

In the Middle East, camel’s meat is the rarest and most prized source of pastirma (a highly seasoned, air-dried cured beef in the cuisines of the former Ottoman countries).

Gait and widened feet help camels move without sinking into the sand.

Camel’s milk is richer in fat and protein than cow’s milk. Camel’s milk can be readily made into yogurt but not as butter.

India used camel’s milk as a medicinal product. Bedouin tribes believe it has curative power. And in Ethiopia, it is considered as aphrodisiac.

Humps are considered delicacy.

There are two kinds of camel;

The Arabian or dromedary – one humped of western Asia and

The Bactrian – two-humped of Central Asia.

Camels are related to camelidae or camel-like-creatures like the llama, alpaca, guanaco and vicuña.

Camels are even-toed ungulates with a life expectancy of 40 – 50 years old.

Full grown adult stands 6 ft. 1 in. at the shoulder and 7 ft. 1 in. at the humps.

Camels were first domesticated 3,500-3000 years ago.

There are 14 million dromedary camels alive today, mostly in Somalia, Sudan and Mauritania.

Bactrian population is estimated at 1.4 million and 1,000 in the wild specifically in Gobi desert.

Feral population of dromedaries estimated at 700,000 in Australia.

Mounted camel units have been used over the centuries by military and police forces.

Cama is a hybrid of camel and llama. Born smaller than a llama, had short ears and long tail of camel, no hump and llama-like cloven hooves rather than the dromedary-like pads. At 4 year old, cama became sexually mature and attracted to llama and guanaco females.

Dromedary-Bactrian hybrid is called “bukhts.” They are larger than either parent, have a single hump and are good draft camels.

For more amazing and animal-related articles see

Top 15 Most Venomous Cobras in the World

The Most Beautifully and Uniquely Colored Mammals in the World

Animals with the Weirdest and Unique Horns

Bizarre Sleeping Habits of Animals

Amazing Animals and Their Unique (While sometimes) Bizarre Traits

15 Simply Amazing Animals

  • tracy sardelli

    very interesting. thank you for sharing.

  • salvatore

    great article buddy, well done, thanx for sharing.

  • Unofre Pili

    Very nice.

  • nobert soloria bermosa

    hope you like this one, thank you!

  • Rhodora Bande

    This is very interesting and very informative too. I didn’t know anything about the camels except that they are used by travelers along the deserts. God job.

  • CHAN LEE PENG

    Thanks!

  • valli

    Interesting info.

  • Rana Sinha

    Thanks Nobert.Now we know so many interesting things about camels.

  • Ruby Hawk

    I have been in love with camels since I was a child and read about nomads moving across the desert on their camels.

  • Lucy Lockett

    I’ve learned so much from your enlightening article. My daughter went for a camel ride in Australia and she likes them! This camel spat and had a hissy fit, put me off but I guess he was tired of giving the children a ride!

  • Melody SJAL

    Very interesting info, thanks.