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General Characteristics

Camels are cud chewers, or ruminants, but while all other ruminants have a 4-compartment stomach, only the camelid family has 3 compartments. They are herbivores, meaning that they eat plant-based foods. They browse or graze 6 to 8 hours each day, covering long distances, and they take another 6 to 8 hours to chew their cud. Camel FeedingLike cows, camels regurgitate and rechew partially digested cud. Chewing can take place while walking, standing, or couched. Each regurgitated bolus (round mass of material) is chewed 40 to 50 times. In 8 hours of chewing, 28,000 grinding movements can occur.

Camels are easy to raise and maintain. Intelligent, communicative, and loving animals, they can be patient and docile when treated well but will also let you know if they feel abused. Camels are vocal and freely grunt, moan, and bellow, and they possess keen eyesight and hearing. They are very social and do not like to be separated from their herd. Their average lifespan ranges from approximately 20 to 40 years.

Special Characteristics

The old saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee may seem true, but the camel is actually an evolutionary wonder that is designed for survival in some of the harshest conditions on earth. Each part has a specific function, and the camel is especially noted for the following characteristics.

Cellular Efficiency Their celebrated ability to go long periods without drinking is due to the fact that camels use water more efficiently and recycle it better than other animals. Also, a camel’s u rine is more concentrated than that of other animals (less water loss), and unlike the dung of many other animals, camel dung is dry because of their system’s efficiency in removing the excess moisture.

Camels do not pant and therefore no moisture is lost in evaporative cooling. Instead, a camel’s body temperature can range anywhere from 93ºF to 107.8ºF without ill effect. Thus, a camel can allow its temperature to rise as it becomes hotter and then can radiate away the excess heat at night when temperatures drop. This variation helps to reduce the amount of fluid they lose from sweating. They are able to endure temperature extremes of -40°F to dulaa+100°F.

Dulaa Unique to the dromedary bull is the dulaa, which is the Arabic name for the inflatable and balloon-like pinkish-red mucous membrane that he expels from the side of his mouth as a part of sexual display. The dulaa is present in both sexes but is much better developed in the male. Young bulls and some females can produce the gurgling sound made by the rattling of the mature bull’s dulaa, but only the mature bull can display it and its accompanying frothy saliva. The Bactrian camel has no dulaa.

Ears —Although the camel’s ears are small and round, their hearing is excellent, and their ears are lined with plenty of hair to prevent grit and sand from entering.

Eyes A camel's eyes are large, with a soft, doe-like expression.  An inner eyelid, which is a transparent membrane that opens and closes sideways like a windshield wiper on a car, allows the camel to see even when closed. Three Camels

Eyebrows Sometimes considered to be aloof because of a head and nose that is held high, the camel is simply peeking out from beneath its thick and bushy eyebrows. The brow ridge and eyebrows are prominent, providing a boney "visor" that shields their eyes from the sun.

Eyelashes Long eyelashes help to keep blowing dirt and sand out of a camel’s eyes. Eyelashes can measure as long as 3 or more inches.

Feet and Toes Camels have two toes on each foot, and they bear all of their weight on these two toes. Cows, horses, and many other animals walk on their hoofs, but a camel walks on a broad cushion-like pad that spreads out when the camel places its foot on the ground. The pad supports the animal on loose sand in much the same way that a snowshoe helps a person to walk on snow. The camel's cushioned feet make almost no sound when the animal walks or runs.

Hump The camel’s most distinctive feature is its hump, which stores body fat, helps to insulate organs from the heat of the sun, and provides energy when food is scarce. Contrary to what many people believe, camels do not store water in their humps nor in any other part of their body.

Camels have straight spines, despite their curved humps. The camel is able to carry a heavier load than a horse because of its curved back, and can pull more than one ton with a wheeled cart. The load is limited only by the weight with which the camel can rise to its feet.

Keratinized Pads Callous-like pads of keratin are present on the knees, fetlocks, elbows, hocks, stifles, and under the sternum, all of which prevent direct contact with the ground. Unique to the camel is the nearly 3-inch-thick keratinized pad under its sternum, which is known as the pedestal. These pads generally grow larger and thicker with age.

Legs Long and gangly-looking legs raise the camel’s body well above the hot desert sands and are capable of moving at a fast pace that can reach a high of 40 miles per hour in short bursts and around 25 miles per hour for longer periods. The camel’s thin legs are strong enough to carry not only its body weight (which can exceed 1,500 pounds) but also loads of cargo weighing 500 to 1,000 pounds or more.

When the camel cushes, or kneels, the whole assembly folds up like a deck chair. First the front legs buckle until the camel is kneeling, then the back legs collapse until the camel is seated, and then the front legs push forward, bringing the chest to the ground. To stand up, the camel reverses the process.  Camel Teeth

As a camel walks, it moves one foot at a time, keeping the other three planted firmly on the ground until weight is transferred, mimicking the rolling motion of a boat and explaining the camel's nickname, "ship of the desert.” As the camel speeds up, two legs start to move in tandem on one side and then on the other, giving the classic rolling camel gait. When urged on more, the camel shifts into a gallop, pushing off with its two back legs while leaping forward with its two front legs.

Lips, Mouth, Teeth The split, prehensile upper lip and long neck are useful in reaching foliage that might otherwise be inaccessible. The upper lip is sensitive enough to pick up the tiniest bits of vegetation. Camels can eat thorns and such because of tough, rubbery lining inside the mouth that includes papillae, which visually resemble tubeworms up to 0.7 inch in length. The camel is the only ruminant that has this tough lining and papillae. The camel has a large mouth with 34 sharp teeth; however, there are no teeth on the upper front of the mouth. Incisors and canines grow throughout life.

Milk Camel milk is slightly saltier than cow’s milk but is three times richer in Vitamin C, ten times richer in iron, higher in percentage of unsaturated fatty acids, and richer in B vitamins. Around half the globe, it is regarded as a potent tonic against disease. In the Gulf States of the Middle East, some consider camel milk to be an aphrodisiac. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization is currently investigating claims that camel milk reduces coronary heart disease and diabetes. More and more people are interested in acquiring camel milk here in the United States because of its healing properties with regard to autistic children and to people with digestive diseases.

Nose and Nostrils The slit-like nostrils can be closed to keep dirt and sand from entering the camel’s nose. The nostrils trap and recycle water vapor from exhalation and return it back to the body, reducing the amount of water lost during respiration.

One can sometimes observe camels sniffing their water supply to determine if it’s drinkable. They do not like to drink dirty water or water used by other livestock. It is reported that camels can smell water a mile away.

The classic “camel’s nose in a tent” is a metaphor for permitting a small undesirable situation to gradually and unavoidably worsen, as stated in the old Arabian proverb, "If the camel gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.”

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