Close your eyes and picture a camel. Where did you picture it? In the heat of the desert? Perhaps in front of the pyramids? Chances are, you didn’t think of them on the frozen arctic tundra! But that’s exactly where you would have found the ancestors of today’s camels, happily calling the frigid north home. And it’s all thanks to those magnificent humps!

Camels? In the arctic? Yes, it may seem like an odd combination, but when you start to break down the extraordinary adaptations of the camel you begin to realize that there is far more to them than their odd humps and tendencies to spit. Of the many species that have made our modern lives possible and helped us to survive, the camel has got to be one of the most fascinating!

What’s actually in a camel’s hump (hint: it isn’t water)? Where did they come from? And what makes them so good at surviving the extremes of the desert? Get ready to have your perspective on camels totally turned upside down, and maybe leave with a greater appreciation for man’s best desert friend.

Image: Two camels in the desert

Source: Pixabay

One Hump or Two?

Camels have been walking alongside us for a long while. Domesticated 3,000 years ago, they were a primary mode of transport across expanses of arid lands. With the ability to move as fast as horses, carry up to 200 pounds (90 kg) while walking 20 miles (32 km) an hour, and to survive remarkable periods at a time without food or water, camels are some of our most extraordinary companions. Indeed, there are few domesticated animals that rival the camel’s talents. 1

The camels you typically see are the one-humped dromedary camel, sometimes called the Arabian camel. Only 10% of the world’s camels are two-humped, or Bactrian camels. 2 So, what about those humps? What’s in them? And do they really hold the key to a camel’s ability to go enormous periods without food or water, roaming through the desert or the arctic?

The answer lies in a little bit of strange evolutionary biology, and a lot of natural wonder. Here’s Science Insider with more.

If you’d like to explore more from Science Insider, go check out their YouTube channel. They explore a range of scientific topics in approachable videos that leave you a little more curious about the world!

The Species That Walk Alongside Us

We have learned to thrive with the help of some remarkable species. From dogs to ducks, falcons to farm animals, for thousands of years, our lives have been made easier (and possible) because of some remarkable species.

If you’d like to check out some of their stories, take a look at this circle we’ve put together!

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Over the course of a few millennia, camels have helped keep many cultures alive. They helped us spread goods, and ideas. They’ve helped us survive and for communities to thrive.

Where would we be now without the help of the camel? Think of the exchange of ideas and cultures they have carried on their backs. From the Silk Road to civilizations across Asia, the Middle East, and Northern Africa, camels helped the spread of globalization far before our trains, planes, and modern technology. Though it may seem like an overstatement to many, we owe a great debt of cultural gratitude to the camel.

Though they are now far from their ancestral home in the colds of the arctic, the camel is a great example of the extraordinary ways life at the extremes can lead to remarkable adaptation. As we continue to uncover clues to life on our planet thousands, even hundreds of thousands of years ago, we are bound to have our perception of the world tested. And if we are lucky enough to let this happen, we are bound to find more wonder in the world.

When we look at the species that live alongside us, it’s hard not to have that greater appreciation for the natural world.

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!

-Liesl

Curious about learning more?

Now that you’ve been inspired to look at the world around you a little differently, why not check out our full library of Nature articles? You’re sure to find another great piece that will leave you with a little more wonder about the world!

Nature on EWC!

Notes:

  1. San Diego Zoo. “Camel.” San Diego Zoo Global Animals and Plants, San Diego Zoo, animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/camel.
  2. San Diego Zoo. “Camel.” San Diego Zoo Global Animals and Plants, San Diego Zoo, animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/camel.
  3. Science Insider. “What’s Inside A Camel Hump?” YouTube, Science Insider, 11 Oct. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyM_AXN_QNI.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

COO of Ever Widening Circles, Founder of EWCed

Liesl is a camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often floundering—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV