Last Updated on January 16, 2024
The camel is one of the most interesting animals in the world, thanks to its ability to store water and survive in the desert without drinking for weeks at a time.
This incredible adaptation allows the camel to thrive in the unforgiving desert habitat, which is notoriously scarce, hostile, and subject to extreme weather conditions.
The features that allow it to adapt and survive in the desert are also those that make it so unusual – some would say weird – but definitely iconic.
Every aspect of the camel’s anatomy is designed to increase its chances of survival in the desert, from its skinny legs and long eyelashes to its distinctive hump.
The camel’s skinny legs help it navigate the soft sand of the desert, and its broad feet allow it to walk across the shifting sands without sinking too deeply.
The camel’s thick coat provides insulation against the extreme heat of the desert, and its long eyelashes help to protect its eyes from the glare of the sun.
The camel’s hump is perhaps its most iconic feature, and it is used as a reserve of fat that the animal can draw upon during times of scarcity.
This hump enables the camel to go for long periods without food or water, making it well-suited for life in the desert.
Head to toe, every feature of the camel is designed for survival in the desert, and nothing is left to chance.
How do camels adapt to the desert environment?
Overall, there are a few physical adaptations camels had to go through evolutionarily in order to adapt to the harsh conditions of the desert.
These adaptations include:
- Long eyelashes to remove sand
- Nostrils that they can shut entirely to protect themselves from sandstorms
- Long legs that keeps the body away from hot sand, with large, flat feet for stability
- Thick pads of skin and fur on knees which allows them to sit on scorching hot sand
- Light fur which allows them to regulate body temperature and minimizes sweating
- Ability to drink large amounts of water in just a few minutes
- Ability to store large amounts of fat in their hump which they can turn into food and water
What do camels eat in the desert?
Camels are ruminant herbivores, which means their diet is based on plant foods.
Domesticated species of camel that coexist with humans tend to have a more varied diet, however the wild camel must adapt to a more restricted diet due to the scarce environment in which it lives.
The main source of food for camels in the desert is a very thorny shrub called Alhagi maurorum, or Caspian manna, which is a type of legume rich in protein.
Despite its thorns, camels have no problem eating it and their thick lips prevent them from getting stung.
Similarly, camels have also adapted to feed on cactus, and they have no problems munching on thorny cacti and succulents.
The mouth of a camel contains hard structures that can deal with the thorns without injuring the animal.
There are other plants in the desert that camels are used to eating; these animals can feed on dry grass or plants with a high salt content, and in general will ingest any greens they can find in the desert without problems.
Where do camels store water?
There is a common misconception that camels fill their humps with water, but this is not true.
Camels do not store water, their humps are actually full of fat.
Up to 80 pounds of fat can be stored in the hump, which the camel is able to metabolize to produce food, water and energy.
The camel’s ability to feed itself is another of the secrets of its survival in the desert.
In just 15 minutes, a camel can drink up to 140 liters of water. From this moment on, it will begin to produce fat again.
And even in cases where a camel does not have immediate access to water, its fat storage allows it to survive dehydration even if it loses up to 25-30% of its weight.
How long can a camel survive without water?
Thanks to their unique physiological adaptations to desert environments, camels can go for several weeks without drinking water, depending on the availability of food and other environmental conditions.
The amount of time a camel can withstand without drinking depends highly on the season.
In winter, a camel can go as long as 50 days without drinking anything at all.
In the summer a camel can only go from 5 to 10 days without drinking under the scorching desert heat.
These figures vary depending on the physical activity of the animal and the energy it is consuming.
Desert Camel FAQs
Why do camels live in the desert?
Camels have lived in the desert for thousands of years and have undergone physical changes that allows them to survive under conditions that would be simply too harsh for other species.
This is an evolution strategy that allows them not only to thrive in the desert but also avoid potential predators: the only natural predators of the camel are big cats like lions and leopards.
Why do camels have humps?
Contrary to popular belief, camels do not use their humps to store water.
They need their humps to store fat and cartilage which they can use as a source of energy.
Because of the harshness of the desert a camel can go weeks without eating and needs to rely on their fat storage to produce energy until they eat again.
How many humps does a camel have?
The majority of camels has only one hump, but some species have two.
The one-humped dromedary makes up for 94% of the global camel population, whereas the two-humped Bactrian camel only accounts for 6%.
If you consider dromedaries and camels as separate animals, then the dromedary only has one hump while the camel has two.
Do camels eat cactus?
Yes, camels can eat cacti. In fact, cactus is a staple food for camels in arid regions where other vegetation is scarce.
Camels have specially adapted lips and teeth that allow them to eat cactus and other thorny plants without getting injured.
Camels have also developed a complex digestive system that enables them to extract the most nutrients from the tough cactus plant.
The cactus provides camels with the water they need to survive, as well as the necessary nutrients, and helps them survive in the desert.
What sound does a camel make?
The sound a camel makes is called a grunt.
Camels make lots of snuffly noises that are different from those of any other animals, some describe the sound of a camel as similar to that of Chewbacca from the Star Wars movies.
Do camels spit?
Camels spit when they are annoyed or as a defence mechanism.
Because they need to conserve water, these animals don’t really spit saliva but rather “cud”, that is, partially digested food.
A camel spitting is similar to them throwing up and a very unpleasant experience with a foul smell.
Are camels dangerous?
Camels are docile by nature and have no predatory instincts, but they are not to be messed with.
As a matter of fact, camels can be dangerous and even attack and kill humans.
They are known to have a bit of an attitude, and can get aggressive when annoyed or threatened, especially mothers with calves.
Camels are very large and heavy, they have powerful bites, they will spit and will even sit on you with the intention to hurt you. Always be careful when you handle adult camels.
Your n°1 source of information on the world of sandsports and desert adventure travel. Our articles are the result of extensive research, personal experience, and knowledge-sharing within the global sandboarding community.