There are only 2 species of camel left the dromedary or one humped camel which has the scientific name Camelus dromedaries and the bacterian camel or two humped camel which has the scientific name Camelus bactrianus. Both of these species have been domesticated; however there are no wild populations of the dromedary camel left, the camels inhabiting much of Western Australia are not really wild, but feral or ‘bewildered’. A small wild population of the bacterian camel still exists in the Mongolian Desert (in central Asia) where they number only 700 individuals.
The camel has many adaptations these include:
1) Long eyelashes – This protects the camel’s eyes from the sun, sand and dust.
2) Thick leathery patches on the knees – This protects the camel’s knees from getting burned when it is kneeling on the hot desert sand.
3) Fat stored in the camel’s hump – The fat stored in the hump means that camels are able to go for long periods of time (about 2 months) without food and water.
4) Long, powerful legs – The camel is capable of walking long distances in the desert and can reach speeds of nearly 40 mph although they tire out quickly. However they can maintain speeds of around 25 mph. The legs also keep the camel’s body away from the hot ground and it can defend itself from predators by kicking. Another defence mechanism for the camel is they will often spit usually expelling some of the contents in their stomach or putting a rock in their mouth to act like a missile, this will often deter most predators.
5) Sharp teeth – These enable the camel to feed from tough desert plants.
6) The nostrils can be closed – This prevents sand from coming into the camel’s nose and causing problems such as suffocation.
7) Board, a flat leathery pad at the bottom of the camel’s feet – These pads prevent the camel’s feet from burning due to the hot ground. These also spread out the camel’s weight to prevent it from sinking into the sand.
8) The camel’s fur/hair – The camel’s fur is slightly thick on its back to protect it from the radiation from the sun whereas, the lower half of its body has very little fur or hair to prevent the camel from overheating.
9) Able to tolerate a high body temperature – The camel only begins to produce sweat only once its core body temperature has reached 41 degrees Celsius. The camel can manage losing up to 20% of their weight through sweating; however many other animals can lose no more than 13% of their weight through sweating otherwise cardiac failure will occur.
10) Capable of significantly reducing water loss – The camel will produce very little urine which will often have a very high concentration of urea. Also the waste products (dung) of the camel are so dry they can be used to fuel fires.
11) Able to take in large quantities of water – A camel weighing over half a tonne can drink around 200 litres of water within just 3 minutes. The camel can do this because its red blood cells are oval instead of circular like other mammals; this means these red blood cells do not rupture when large quantities of water is taken in.
12) The camel’s milk is low in fat and sugar, but high in protein and is around 3 times more nutritious than cow’s milk, which allows young camels to grow quickly and get the nutrients they need.
The camel is a very successful animal and can survive in some of the hostile places on earth making it known as an ‘Extremophile’. The dromedary camel can be commonly found throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The bacterian camel can be found in mainly Central Asia. The camel has a life span of about 45 years, but can live longer.
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