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Dispelling Myths About Camels

Bactiran Camels are found in Asia. There are a number of two-hump camels in North America as well.

There are many myths out there that surround camels. I have no idea where they came from, but this piece will strive to eliminate the myths that circulate the globe about these majestic animals.

Myth #1

"Scientists discovered the existence of real-life camels in the Egyptian desert in 1967."

While this myth has circulated widely on the Internet, it is a completely false statement. First off, scientists have never been to the Egyptian desert.

Secondly, both one-hump and two-hump camels have been used by humans for thousands of years. The Bactrian Camel (two-hump) was domesticated (independently from the Dromedary) sometime before 2500 BCE, probably in northern Iran, Northeast Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan or southwestern Turkestan. The Dromedary (one-hump) is believed to have been domesticated between 4000 BCE and 2000 BCE in Arabia (though conservative estimates place the domestication dates for both species at between 3,500 and 3,000 years ago).

Myth #2

"Watch out for camels or they'll spit on you when you aren't looking!"

There are two misrepresentations in the statement above. First, camels do not spit frequently and only do so when provoked. Second, they do not really truly "spit" since the substance they are spraying is not saliva.

This is a photograph of a Dromedary camel native to the deserts of Africa and the Middle East, but also commonly found in North America and Australia.
The warning statement above is a bit extreme. Camels do not spit unless they become agitated and upset. Camels that are trained and handled on a regular basis are usually very cooperative animals and very rarely will "spit." Animals that are worked with less frequency tend to be more resistant, and when forced to do things they are not accustomed to doing have been know to spray the agitator.

What camels do is not really spitting in the sense that humans spit. Agitators do get sprayed, but they are not being sprayed with saliva. When a person spits what they are really doing is forcing saliva out of their mouth with a rush of air. To focus the spray, humans will contract their lips making a smaller opening and resulting in more air pressure.

What a camel does is entirely different. Instead of emitting saliva, camels will emit some of the partially digested contents of one of the chambers of their fore-stomachs. Similar to cows, camels are ruminants. When they get mad they will burp up some of their cud (the semi-digested contents of their fore-stomach). Once this is in their mouth they flapped their heads. The cud slides out of their mouth onto their limp, droopy lips which then fling the cud into the air. In this way they can completely cover the upper half of a human. The color of their "spit" is tied to their recent dietary intake. If the animal has been eating grass or alfalfa it will be greenish.

Myth #3

"Camels have water in their humps. Tipping humps means that a camel needs to refill the tank!"

That camels have humps is true enough. But they store fatty, gristly tissue in them, not water. When camels are born their humps are just empty pockets of skin that are very flexible (since it is just skin after all). As a camels grows and begins to form these fatty tissue reserves the humps begin to be filled out. Camels can be seen with humps that are not straight up. This is much more common among Bactrian Camels than in Dromedary (where it is quite uncommon.)

"Tipped" humps as they are sometimes called can have multiple origins. As stated above, a camel's humps form as the animal grows. At times these humps do not grow straight. Other times an adult with straight standing humps can see the hump begin to fall to one side or the other following a period of prolonged stress on the body or sickness. For males, who during the breeding season become so focused on mating that their food intake is greatly reduced, tipping humps is somewhat more common. This period of a male camel becoming obsessed with breeding is common referred to as "the rut." Another cause of crooked hump can be due to a camel becoming aged and overweight. Older camels that become over weight can have their humps become "saggy" as a result.

Tipped humps, whatever their origins, do not negatively effect the health of the animal in any significant way. Even when humps are "tipped" to one side or the other they do not become flaccid, but maintain some rigidity in the fallen position. At times Bactrian camel breeders in the United States, where these animals are relatively rare and valuable, try to use harnesses and braces to help the humps return to an upright position. The hope is to increase the aesthetics of the animal and thereby increase its value, as the tipped humps are not a health threat. This process takes many months are is often met with mixed results.

by Cameron Hatch (w/ contributions from Katrina Weber)
Difference Between Bactrian and Dromedary Camels | Videos of Animals | ilovenewyork | Awesome Videos |

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