- Dromedary Camels
- Bactrian Camels
- Camel fibre (opens a new page)
The most obvious characteristics of camels are the humps, which are used to store fat, rather than water. The fat can be converted to water and energy when food is not available, giving camels the ability to survive for many days without eating or drinking. When the fat is used up, the humps become floppy. Camels provide milk, leather, meat and fibre; with milk having the most economic importance.
Camels are sometimes called ‘Ships of the Desert’ as they can carry heavy loads for long distances. Camels carrying 150 kilo loads can travel up to 45 km per day for one month and silk going via the Silk Road was transported on camel back. They have long strong legs and step forward with both legs on the same side, which gives them a rolling gait. The two broad toes and undivided soles prevent them from sinking when walking on sand. They also have long eyelashes and sealable nostrils, adaptations that kelp to keep out dust during sandstorms.
An easy way to remember which camel is which is by the first letter of their name. Like the letter ‘B’, Bactrian camels have two humps, and like the letter ‘D’ dromedaries have one hump. Both types of camels produce fibre, but only the Bactrian camel produces down whilst the dromedary produces a coarse fibre.
1. Dromedary Camels (Camelus dromedarius)
This one-humped camel lives in the Middle East and only exists in the domesticated form. It is about 1.8 to 2m tall and produces coarse fibre which is used for making ropes. This was the camel used by the Three Wise Kings.
2. Bactrian Camels (Camelus bactrianus)
This camel has been domesticated for at least 3,000 years and lives in the Asian deserts of China, Tibet and Mongolia. They are taller than dromedaries and may be more than 2 metres tall at the shoulder.
There are less than 1000 wild Bactrian camels in the Gobi desert. They are often considered a different species (C. ferus) from the domesticated Bactrian Camel and are designated as critically endangered by the IUCN.
Top of page