The camel is a large, humpbacked mammal, and the first animal domesticated by man in prehistoric times.
Two species are recognized: the heavily built, two-humped Bactrian camel, which inhabits the deserts of central Asia, and the single-humped Arabian camel, or dromedary, which is widespread through.out the Middle East, India, and North Africa. Neither species has been much modified by man. The Bactrian camel, living in regions where the winters are very cold, has a longer, darker winter coat, and its legs are shorter.
An adult Bactrian seldom measures more than 7 feet from the ground to the top of the humps-about the height of the shoulder in the taller and more slender dromedary.
Camels have even-toed, digitigrade feet (that is, the posterior of the foot is raised and it walks on its digits). The third and fourth toes are united by thick, fleshy pads and tipped with nail-like hooves. Horny pads on the chest and knees support the body when the camel kneels; these pads are present in the newborn calf. The limbs and neck of the camel are elongated, the upper lip is cleft, and the ears are small.
The hump of the camel is a food store which, because it is concentrated in one large deposit and not distributed as a subcutaneous layer of fat, allows the rest of the body to lose heat more rapidly, The notion that the camel stores water in its hump, or that the fat of which the hump is composed is itself a water store, is erroneous. On oxidation the fat does produce metabolic water, but the extra oxygen used in the process involves in turn an extra loss of water through the lungs, just about canceling any water gain from oxidation.
The camel is a very phlegmatic animal and has a reputation for stupidity and obstinacy. The males are quarrelsome during the rutting season and bite savagely when they fight.
The dromedary has a pronounced rutting season at the time of the rains in winter; pregnancy is prolonged for nearly a year until the following rainfall. The Bactrian has an even longer gestation period of 370 to 440 days. In both species the young are born singly and suckled for three or four months, and the interval between births is two years. Camels are full- grown at 16 or 17 years; the normal life span is about 25 years.
Droves of wild Bactrian camels in the Gobi desert consist of one or two males and three to five females. They sleep at night in open spaces and graze during the day on grasses, brushwood, and scrub, migrating to the northern part of the range in spring and returning southward in autumn.
Camels mate in January and February.
When moving fast, camels pace. That is, they raise both legs on the same side of the body and advance them simultaneously. A speed of about 6 mph may be achieved, but it cannot be maintained for more than a few hours. The normal walking speed of a fast dromedary used for racing by Bedouins is 3.5 mph, and its maximum speed is approximately 10 mph. A camel cannot gallop for more than a few yards, however. In order to keep a racing camel at its fastest pace-the long trot- the rider must cultivate a rankling sore on its neck and prick it constantly.