Camels are unique and strange-looking mammals with long legs, big lips, and humps. The oldest known camel, Protylopus, was the size of a bunny and roamed North America 50 million years ago.
Surviving the Old World, camels adapted to their ever-changing environment living amongst humans. Today, we have seven types of camels, also known as camelids. Some of these camels are wild, and some are domesticated.
This article will introduce you to both Old World and New World camelids. From wild camels to trusty guard camels, these intelligent creatures help humans every day.
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The 3 Types of True Camels
1. Bactrian Camel (Camelus Bactrianus)
The Bactrian camel or the Mongolian camel is recognizable by its two pointy humps. They’re known for their large even-toed hoofs and wooly coats.
Mongolian camels are the largest living camels, with an average shoulder height of 5.9 ft (1.80 m). Their body mass is approximately 1,300 lb (600 kg) for males and 1,000 lb (480 kg) for female camels.
There are over 2 million Bactrian camels, and almost all of them are domesticated.
Their history intertwined with humans around 2500 BC. Their domestication started at this time, too. Back then, two-humped camels helped merchants on the Silk Road by pulling traveling caravans.
These camelids can resist any extreme weather from the freezing cold to the scorching heat. Camel hairs handle -22 ℉ (-30 ℃) in the winter and 122 ℉ (50 ℃) in the summer. They even have the unique ability to go without water for months and can drink up to 12 gallons (57 liters) at once.
They can go up to 30 miles daily and carry more than 1,000 lb (450 kg), which is double the Arabian camel’s capacity. They can also be quite fast, running at 40 mph (65km/h). However, these camels rarely run at all.
2. Dromedary/ Arabian Camel (Camelus Dromedarius)
The dromedary or Arabian Camel is the tallest camel of the three species and can reach up to 7 ft 10 (2.4 m).
This one-humped camel represents 94% of the camelid population. Equipped with a long, curved neck, long hairs on the throat, and a brown coat color, these camels thrive in warm climates.
Considered a pack species, they form herds of up to 20 individuals with a dominant male.
These domestic camels range from North Africa, Ethiopia, and western and central Africa. The Arabian camel is most famous for its particular adaptations to the arid climate. It can tolerate 30% water loss, which no other mammal can achieve.
They also have double eyelids and long lashes to protect them from sand and dust.
If temperatures reach 104 ℉ (40 ℃), dromedary camels need to drink water every 15 days. Interestingly, they can even voluntarily close their nostrils to preserve water.
The hump is like a traveling fridge for camels. They can store up to 80 lb (36 kg) of fat to break down into energy whenever needed.
Nomadic tribes living in the desert rely on camel milk to survive. They can also make cheese and other dairy products. In Ethiopia, they use camel milk as an aphrodisiac.
3. Wild Bactrian Camel (Camelus Ferus)
The wild Bactrian camel is a close relative to the Bactrian Camel but was never domesticated. This wild species lives in northwestern China and southwestern Mongolia. Their look consists of a double-humped with even-toed ungulates.
Initially, scientists believed that wild Bactrian camels descended from domesticated ones. They thought this was what lead to a feral population.
But, genetic studies showed that it is a separate species. Apparently, it split from domestic Bactrian camels over 1.1 million years ago.
The IUCN red list shows the wild Bactrian camel as a critically endangered species since 2008. There are currently less than 1000 species. Most live in national nature reserve centers in China and Mongolia.
Unlike their domesticated relatives, the wild Bactrian camels are smaller with narrow feet. Additionally, they can drink very salty water, which no other mammal can tolerate. Not even the Bactrian camel!
4 New World Camels
1. Llama (Lama Glama)
This South American camelid is a domesticated mammal primarily used for meat. Yet, they can also be excellent guard dogs for sheep, goats, and poultry. They usually protect their group by chasing away predators.
Llamas are social animals who live in packs. They can quickly learn new tricks through repetition. They are very curious and generally pleasant to be around. If they’re bottle-fed and over-socialized as youths, they will treat humans as one of their kind as adults.
Llamas communicate through spitting, kicking, and neck wrestling. Their fighting is visually dramatic!
They usually spit on lower-ranked llamas to correct their behavior. These camelids can always move up or down the ranking system through battle. Now you know why llamas tend to spit on humans!
An adult llama is about 5 ft 11 (1.80m) tall and weighs no more than 600 lb (270 kg). Baby llamas are called cria and can walk within one hour of birth.
As certified therapy animals, llamas help people with depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Nursing homes and hospitals welcome llamas to improve the mood of patients.
In Andean cultures, the Heavenly Llama drinks water from the ocean. When it rains, it means the llama is peeing. When the end of times comes, this mammal will return to the water springs.
2. Alpaca (Lama Pacos)
Alpacas are perhaps the cutest of the New World Camels. Often confused with llamas, they are fluffier and smaller. But, unlike llamas, they bred for their wool. So people make blankets, sweaters, hats, ponchos, and other items from their fuzzy coats.
Alpacas live in herds in Peru, Bolivia, the Equator, and Chile at altitudes over 16,000 feet (5,000m) above sea level. There are two types of alpacas; the Suri and the Huacaya alpaca, the latter being the most common.
Like llamas, alpacas are intelligent and can get trained through a rewards system. They can also spit up to 10 feet if they need to defend their territory. Most alpacas are quiet, males being more curious and energetic.
As social creatures, they also set personal space boundaries within their pack. They have hierarchies, and each knows who’s the boss of individual groups. They mainly use body language to communicate with each other.
3. Guanaco (Lama Guanicoe)
The guanaco is a species of wild camelids closely related to llamas. They are a small species of camelids, standing at almost 4 ft (1.3m) tall. Guanacos are one of the largest land mammals native to South America, weighing up to 310 lb (140 kg). It makes them pretty heavy animals!
The guanaco is a diurnal animal that lives in small packs with one male and several females. They can run up to 40 mph (65 km/h), which is essential to their survival. Animals that hunt guanacos include the puma and the Andean fox.
Their soft and warm fur makes it a luxury fabric, considered as good as the best cashmere. In addition, Bolivians make shoes from the neck skin because it is very thick.
4. Vicuna (Lama Vicugna)
The vicuna, the second wild camelid in South America, lives in higher alpine areas than guanacos. Vicunas descend from alpacas but remain wild because of their temperament.
As the national animal of Peru, it appears on the Peruvian coat of arms. Their fur is costly because it can only be collected every three years from the wild.
Incas considered the wool so precious that only royalty could wear it. Vicuna is the smallest camelid, with an average height of 3 ft (85 cm) and approximately 150 lb (65 kg). Like guanacos, it’s food for pumas and Andean foxes.
The Incan tradition called chacu attracts many visitors to Peru to celebrate vicunas. During ancient times, vicunas were sacrificial animals. It was their way to thank Mother Earth for its prosperity. Nowadays, the animal gets spared in a more symbolic celebration.
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Old World camels belong to the genus Camelus in the Camelidae family. New World camels belong to the genus Lama in the Camelidae family.
What do Camels Eat?
All camels are herbivorous and eat grass, wheat, and grains. Their tough lips help them chew through thorny or salty plants, which other mammals avoid. Camels are ruminants like cows, so they regurgitate their food to eat it again.
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How do Camels Sleep?
Camels sleep standing up so they can protect themselves from predators. They usually sleep for about 6 hours per night. They can withstand the significant temperature difference between night and day.
How do Camels Mate?
Camelids mate from a sitting position and are the only ungulates to do this. Both males and females sit on the ground while the male mounts from behind. The gestation period is between 11 to 14 months, and only one or two camels are born.
A newborn camel doesn’t have humps but has small peaks showing where the humps will be. Nursing can take up to 2 years, depending on the species. For example, a camel becomes an adult at seven years old.
Camel Fun Facts
The word camel comes from the Arabic language, and it means beautiful. Arabic culture has over 160 words for the camel.
It takes about 13 minutes for a camel to drink 30 gallons (130 liters) of water. A camel’s body rehydrates much faster than any other animal. Some camels can survive for six months without food or water.
Their lifespan depends on the species, and it varies from 15 years to 40 years. They usually live this long because they don’t have many natural predators.
Camels or “ships of the desert” can carry big loads for long distances.
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Are there three-humped camels?
No, there aren’t any three-humped camels. The Bactrian camel and the wild Bactrian camels are the only two-humped camels.
Can camels spit out their stomachs?
Camels don’t spit out their stomachs. Instead, they throw up the content of their stomachs along with saliva.
Can you breed a camel and a horse?
Since they are not closely related species, you cannot successfully breed a camel and a horse.
Can a camel give milk?
A camel can produce milk, and nomadic tribes drink it regularly, making this the staple food for them.
Are camels aggressive?
Under certain situations, camels can become aggressive and bite and kick. It usually happens during mating season.