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article imageFour amazing facts to know about camels

By Clay Walker     Apr 13, 2014 in Science
While closely related to the four South American camelids (llamas, alpacas, guanaco, and vicuña) true camels have amazing and odd adaptations helping them survive the worlds harshest environments.
Let’s just go ahead and get the weirdest adaptation out of the way first. Male dromedary camels, these are the guys with one hump, have a dulla. What is a dulla?
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The dulla, palatine diverticulum, is a blind inflatable extension of the soft palate. Basically like a giant inflatable red balloon, that when expanded hangs out of the side of the camel’s mouth. When the bull is in rut he will inflate his dulla, and cover the outside with thick saliva. This along with continuous spraying of his urine, using his tail like a fan, is irresistible to females. A similar organ is seen on the hooded seal, the male seals will inflate a pinkish balloon like nasal membrane for matting or territorial disputes.
Two camel species  the bactrian (left) and dromedary (right).
Two camel species, the bactrian (left) and dromedary (right).
Classically, camels have been separated into two surviving and distinct species of camels. The bactrian has two humps (think a capital ‘B’ laying on its side has two humps). Bactrian camels are native to Central Asia. The single hump camel is the dromedary camel (think a capital ‘D’ on its side). Dromedary camels range from the Middle East to North Africa.
Recently, researchers have separated the subspecies of bactrian into two separate species: the domestic bactrian (Camelus bactrianus) and wild bactrian (Camelus ferus). However, this separation of the genus Camelus is highly debated. The wild bactrian is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN.
Dromedary camel range
Dromedary camel range
Phoenix B
Camels are not native to Australia, but have made a nice home in the outback. Both domesticated species were brought to Australia over 150 years ago, and due to their amazing adaptations to survive in the desert, bactrian and dromedary camels can still be found thriving in Australia’s harsh environment.
Feral camel populations are continuously culled as they have become a nuisance to farmers and a threat to native species (camel culling). There is an anecdote that long ago they wanted to test the camel's reserve in Australia. A horse and a camel were both raced across Australia to determine which would be faster. The horse won, crossing the finish line just hours before the camel, but died soon after of exhaustion. It is said that the camel and his rider left the next day on the return journey.
Human abdominal fat is thought to accumulate similar to the fat of a camel s hump.
Human abdominal fat is thought to accumulate similar to the fat of a camel's hump.
Camels of course, are best known for their humps. So why are they there? Contrary to the common belief, camel humps do not contain water. Cut into a camel’s hump and you will find fatty tissue. If we think about fat, it really serves two main functions. Fat is used for energy storage during times of fasting. Fat is used for insulation, like a whale’s blubber or a bear’s subcutaneous fat that helps to keep them warm.
Camels have an obvious need for energy storage but a limited need for insulation, so they have evolved to store their fat in one giant lump on their backs. This allows them to better dissipate heat while still having the capacity to store energy when food is abundant. Can you think of another species that does this? Humans do. We carry much of our extra fat in a similar manner, but on our front rather than on our back. Accumulating abdominal fat on our bellies is thought to be a similar adaptation, allowing us to store energy in the form of fat and still regulate body temperature by localizing the fat stores.
So next time someone asks you why all their fat goes straight to their belly, you can confidently respond: ‘Science of course … and camels.’
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