The Myth about Camel Humps

Camel and rider, 1892

Camel and rider, 1892. State Library of South Australia.

Camels get a bad rap, ridiculed as horses designed by a committee, and with a reputation for a terrible temper. They’re almost never acknowledged as hardy survivors in some of the toughest terrain on the planet. And there’s much more to their desert survival than those ungainly humps on their backs.

Water is stored in camel humps to tide the beasts over prolonged periods in arid conditions, right? Wrong. The humps instead hold reserves of fatty tissue. But camels do store water for their bodies to draw on over an extended period. The question is, where do they keep it?

The water is absorbed by their red blood cells which are oval in shape (no other mammal has red blood cells this shape, although reptiles, fish and birds do) and can hold water in large volumes which would destroy the blood cells of other mammals. This is handy for an animal which easily drinks up to 150 litres of water at a time.

Gobi camel

A very well insulated Gobi camel. Photo by Matt Spurr.

Less of a surprise is the great insulation that camels get from their thick fur. They can reach a body temperature of at least 41°C/106°F (a temperature at which humans experience dangerously high fevers) before breaking into a sweat, and they can safely lose up to 25% of their body weight through sweat. But camels are so good at holding onto their water reserves that their urine is passed as a thick syrup!

Archived under Science & Nature.

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3 Responses to The Myth about Camel Humps

  1. Who knew! I sure didn’t. Very interesting.

  2. Cool facts on the camels, now you should do a post on camel spiders! Found you from the MDBP by the way, great blog, I’ll be looking forward to your updates!

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