5 Weird Facts About Camels

Herd of bactrian camels (Camelus bactrianus) in the in the Gobi desert of Mongolia. Khovd province, Mongolia. Zazaa Mongolia/Shutterstock

Camels are an unusual species. They are amazingly odd-looking, and yet those gangly, lumpy features are what make them perfectly adapted to thriving in harsh environments. We all know a few basic things about camels, like they possess humps on their backs and have been invaluable to people needing to cross the desert. But there is so much more to know about these amazing creatures.

1. There are two types of camels in the world: the dromedary camel (or Arabian camel) and the Bactrian camel (or the Asian camel). The wild Bactrian is the only wild camel left in the world, and is found in only two places, the Arjin Shan Lop Nur nature reserve in China’s Xinjiang province and Mongolia’s Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area. It is critically endangered with only around 950 or so surviving. All other camels are considered domesticated and while some may run free, they are feral rather than wild.

2. Camels have many adaptations for living in harsh desert-like environments, including having three eyelids and two sets of eyelashes to keep out dust and sand. They have extra thick lips that allow them to eat thorny plants that other animals ca't, and their large feet are flat to keep them from sinking into the sand. The camel can even close its nostrils to keep out the dust.

3. The camel's hump is its most notable feature. However contrary to popular belief, it isn't used to store water. Instead, the hump stores fat. The fat releases both energy and water when there's a shortage. It also serves another purpose: by storing most of its fat in one place, a camel is not covered in insulating fat and thus can stay cooler in the desert heat. Dromedary camels have one hump while Bactrian camels have two.

4. When a camel does come across water, it can fill up in a hurry, drinking as much as 30 gallons in 13 minutes. The camel can rehydrate faster than any other mammal on Earth.

5. Camels have provided sustenance to humans for thousands of years in the form of meat and milk. Camel's milk is incredibly nutritious, containing 10 times more iron and three times more vitamin C than cow’s milk. It is also closer to human milk than any other type. It is also low in lactose, so even lactose-intolerant humans can drink camel's milk.