There are only two species of camel, and both are pretty funny looking. Bactrian camels (the two-humped variety), however, are by far the stranger looking species, and so they will be the focus of today’s post.

Bactrian camels live in the deserts and steppes of Eastern Asia, north of the Himalayas. The majority of bactrian camels are domesticated, with the wild population being found in the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts. The camels migrate to balmy Siberian rivers during the winter, and temperatures in their habitats can range from -40 Celsius to 40 degrees over the course of a year.

Camels are pretty big, with bactrians reaching over two meters at the shoulder. They have a big, furry coat to withstand the cold, which they shed out during the hot summer months. The camels have a number of other protections against the harsh climate they inhabit, included great big bushy eyebrows, two rows of eyelashes, and very hairy ears. They can also close their lips and nostrils very tightly to protect themselves from wind and sand.

A bactrian camel showing off its extremely furry coat.
Image by Colegota, CC BY-SA 2.5 ES, via Wikimedia Commons

Mating in bactrian camels is a violent affair, with males doing all sorts of nasty things to each other to win over lovely female camels. They use fairly standard tactics like biting, but also employ unorthodox techniques such as spitting and sitting on their opponents. Camels mate in the fall, and after a thirteen month gestation one calf is born. Calves stay with their mothers until they are sexually mature, usually at three to five years of age.

The problem with living in deserts is that there isn’t a whole lot to eat. Deserts aren’t known for their lush vegetation, so bactrian camels have to make do with what they can find. They are primarily herbivores, and can eat and digest almost any plant. Their mouths are super tough, which means they can eat most things, like thorny plants. If enough plant matter isn’t available, the camels will turn savage, eating the flesh and skin of dead animals, and chew on bones. If bactrian camels are really desperate, they will eat man-made objects, such as sandals, tents, and rope.

A baby bactrian camel, which looks even funnier than its mother.
Image by Marmoset1000 at en.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The other major problem desert animals face is, of course, finding enough water. Bactrian camels can go without water for months, but when they drink, they drink a lot. A bactrian camel can drink almost 60 litres of water in one go. In winter, the camels rely mainly on snow for water, which means the camels have to spend a lot of extra energy keeping themselves warm. It doesn’t sound like it would be very much fun to be a bactrian camel.

Camels’ humps are their most distinctive features, and they are very important to them. The humps are filled wth stored fat, which camels use during periods of scarcity to survive. Each hump of a bactrian camel can store up to 36 kg of fat. A healthy, well-fed camel will have nice plump humps, while a starved camel will have floppy, smaller humps, indicating that the camel has tapped into its fat reserves.

Though bactrian camels have a reasonable stable population thanks to those that have been domesticated, wild bactrian camels are critically endangered. Thanks to human activities, there are now less than 1000 bactrian camels in the wild. Which is a shame, because camels are really neat animals, and have conquered such harsh environments that I really think they deserve to stick around.

Cover image by Alexandr frolov, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons