Bactrian Camels: When The Humps Give You Confidence.

Would you trust some creatures who can maintain themselves in conditions that would kill nearly any other beings? Would you trust some creatures that have the ability to live months without food and water, the ability to drink sea water, a coat that protects from the heat, even their blood is different than your blood, and much more? Bactrian camels are known as two-humped camels with a scientific name Camelus bactrianus. There are only two species of camels and only Bactrian camels have a distinctive feature of two humps. Aristotle was the first who called those camels as Bactrian meaning that they originated in Bactria which was the region of ancient central Asia. However, the name’s origin is still being disputed. Today, the Bactrian camel exists in scarce fragmented populations in northwest China and southwest Mongolia.  


There could be a misunderstanding that the camels’ humps store water. In fact, they are not filled with water. The humps are actually composed mostly of fat tissue. If they are not for water, then what function do they serve? The answer is simple: energy storage. Yes, camels use the fat tissue in their humps as nutrition when there is no food available to them. When camels use up the fat in their humps, the humps slowly become depleted and may hang to the sides. But how about water? Since they do not drink water for two weeks or even a month, they have an exceptional ability to minimize water loss. They produce a very concentrated urine without much water in it, and their kidneys and intestines are good at helping them to retain water. Camels can drink 120 liters of water at once, but that water is needed to restore the normal water content of their bodies.




Bactrian Camels have a distinct feature of two humps which do not store water. Image taken from–



 Camels are the only mammals that can satisfy their thirst by drinking sea water and they do not die from dehydration. This is because of the specific shape of their red blood cells. Instead of having discus red blood cells like other animals, their red blood cells are oval. The oval red blood cells are oriented in a direction of blood flow. This allows them to easily move through the vessels in a dehydrated state when the blood thickens. Their red blood cells are also more stable and can withstand high osmotic variation. When drinking large amounts of water, the cells are not rupturing; instead, they can expand and become 240% larger in volume than their initial size. The cells of other animals would burst if they had to expand like this.

Camels have thick eyebrows and long eyelashes, which function as a shield to protect their eyes from the sun, wind, sand, and dust. Another unusual adaptation to withstand the sand is the ability to close their nostrils.

Camels’ closed nostrils.


Camels’ coats helps to withstand both heat and cold. Their thick coat reflects sunlight, which helps to keep them from overheating. Their coat consists of two parts: the warm inner coat and a long and hairy outer coat.

Another unique feature is an upper lip that splits in two with each part moving independently. Splitted upper lips help camels in picking the tiniest plants. Also, their lips and mouths are pretty insensitive, which allows them to eat desert plants without feeling pain.

Camels’ upper lip that splits in two.


Camels have a three-chambered rather than a four-chambered stomach. Camels do not completely chew up their food before swallowing it. When they swallow their food, one of the three sections of the stomach stores the poorly chopped food particles for later use. This poorly chewed food tends to return back to the mouth and a camel chews it again. After this, the food is swallowed and goes to the other two parts of the stomach for a final digestion. The Bactrian camels are herbivorous; in other words, they live on water and plants. If there are no plants around, they can eat bones and skin, or even steal people’s sandals or ropes.

When it comes to mating rituals, nobody can compete with Arabian camels, but Bactrian camels would try. Male camels are very aggressive during mating season and attack other males. Camels have a bit of a reputation. Yes, they become loud, they spit, bite, kick, and tend to sit on other males. Since their urine contains female-attracting pheromones, they urinate on their tail and swish it over their back. One of the weirdest adaptations is that male Arabian camels tend to stick out a balloon-like pinkish-red mucous membrane called ‘dulaa’. The Bactrian camels do not have dulaa. The gestation period varies from 13-15  months and usually one calf is born, or less often twins. The baby camel has an ability to stand and walk a few hours after birth. Female camels provide parental care to a young calf until the young calf reaches adult size at around 5 years old.

A newborn Bactrian camel, Alexander, with his mother in Lincoln Park Zoo of Chicago.


A Photograph of Alexander taken by me in November, 2016 at


The camel is a bundle of fascinating physical adaptations. They do not have to eat and drink as often as others, they can withstand cold and warm temperatures, and they can even drink sea water! Their unique features allow them to survive in extremely harsh environments, and they are probably the only animals that can be proud of having the humps, because their humps help them to survive. If you decide to own one, just feed it on time, otherwise it can cost you some of your belongings.




An image of a grown-up Bactrian camel taken by me at








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