There are six members of the family Camelidae. Two of these are 'true' camels; one living in Asia and the other in Arabia and North Africa. The other four members of the family are the South American 'camels', better known to us perhaps, as llamas.


Camel Habits

All camels are well adapted to their difficult life in a desert environment. Their eyes have long lashes which protect them from the stinging, blinding, wind-blown sand; the nostrils can be fully or partly closed by the muscular valves to keep out the sand, and the animals are able to go without water for several days. One reliable record shows that a camel team went without water for eight days during a journey in North Africa. Another report tells of a terrible journey made by camels across the waterless deserts of Northern Australia, during which the animals were without water for 34 days! Although most of the camels died, just a few survived this ordeal - probably by eating vegetation covered with dew.

During the long periods without drinking the camel demonstrates one of its remarkable physiological adaptations. It can lose water from its body tissues equal to a quarter of its entire weight! The emaciated and dehydrated animal will then need to drink at least 20 gallons of water in order to restore its body liquid level and at the same time slake its intense thirst. The amazing thing is that the water is very rapidly absorbed by the body tissues and the camel quickly loses much of its emaciated appearance!

The hump of a camel contains a store of fatty tissue which can be used as a source of food and energy when natural vegetation is in short supply or non-existent. Camels can be bad-tempered animals capable of inflicting a vicious slashing bite. They can also spit a foul smelling 'soup' of regurgitated food at anyone who irritates them sufficiently. Despite all this, the camel can carry a load of around 181k (400lb) over considerable distances, while the dromedary or riding camel can travel up to 100 miles in one days, so it is not really surprising that camels are regarded as valuable working animals.

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