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Camelus dromedarius (aka Dromedary)
The Arabian Camel is most easily distinguished from its cousin the Bactrian Camel by having only one prominent hump instead of two (it actually does have two humps, but the front hump is significantly smaller). The hump is composed of fat bound together by fibrous tissue, acting as food storage in times of need.
Dromedaries are typically caramel brown or sandy brown in color, but coloration can range from almost black to nearly white. They stand up to 7 feet high at the hump, are up to 10 feet long, and weigh up to 1,520 pounds; males are about about 10% heavier and longer than females. Their feet are pad-shaped and adapted for traveling on sand at speeds of up to 40 mph, and the lips are thickened to allow consumption of coarse, thorny plants.
Distribution and Habitat
The dromedary is native to arid regions of the Middle East, through northern India and west through the Sahara Desert of Africa. No truly wild populations exist in its native range, but there are feral herds in the arid regions of central Australia, where they were introduced in the mid-1800's.
Camels are so well adapted for life in the desert that they cannot survive in any other type of climate. Their eyes are protected from blowing sand and dust by a double row of eyelashes, and they have the ability to close their nostrils to prevent sand from entering. Water is conserved by the camel's ability to fluctuate its body temperature throughout the day, which keeps it from sweating as the external temperature rises. Although it can lose as much as 40% of its internal water without suffering ill effects, a camel will readily drink water when it is available. It can also take in as much as 30 gallons of water in just 10 minutes, something no other mammal can do.
Habits and Behaviors
Camels are not typically aggressive toward one another except during the rut.
In the wild, the basic social unit is the family, consisting of one male, and one to several females, subadults, and young. The male within the family unit prevents contact between female camels within the family and stray males by either standing or walking in between them, or by driving the stray males away. The male is the dominant member of the family group and directs the family from the rear while the females take turns leading. Dromedaries tend to travel by walking single file.
Females reach sexual maturity at about 3 years of age and mate around age 4 or 5. Males begin to rut by age 3, but do not reach full sexual maturity until age 6.
Breeding occurs in winter and overlaps with the rainy season (even in most domesticated herds). During competition for females, males threaten each other by making low noises with the fleshy fold of their mouths, stand as tall as possible, and repeat a series of head movements including lowering, lifting, and bending their necks backwards. Upon confrontation, fighting males attempt to bring their opponent to the ground by biting at his legs and taking the opponent's head in between his jaws.
One (rarely two) calf is born after a gestation period of about 15 months. Able to move about on its own by the end of its first day, the calf will be weaned at about 4 months and be independent by its second year. The average lifespan of a dromedary is 40-50 years.
Dromedaries will eat almost anything that grows in the desert, but thorny plants, dry grasses and saltbush make up the majority of its diet. They spend 8-12 hours a day grazing, during which time they tend to spread over large areas and select only a few leaves from each plant in order to avoid overtaxing the local food supply.
This page was last updated on January 23, 2017.