Featured in the newest Dialogue Magazine »
The Amazing Dromedary Camel

The Amazing Dromedary Camel


Camels are one of the most amazing animals known to humans. They are the workhorse of the desert and a gift to generations of people. The Bible mentions camels over 60 times, indicating their central importance in Biblical times. The Bible notes two kinds of camels, the two humped Bactrian camel, and the larger one hump dromedary camel, Camelus dromedarius, family Camelidae. Both kinds now live in the hot dry deserts of the Middle East.

Dromedary camels are mammals expertly designed for desert life and have worked closely with humans for close to five thousand years (Grzimek’s Animal Encyclopedia. 1972.Vol. 13. Van Nostrand p. 138). Although their main diet is grass and other plants, they can eat almost anything. Their mouths are so tough that they can even munch on a thorny cactus plant or a pair of shoes.

Its eighty-pound hump is filled with fat, not water as some people assume. Its body uses the fat stored in the hump to survive long periods without food, enabling it to travel across the hot barren desert sands of the Arab world (Grzimek’s Animal Encyclopedia. 2004. Vol. 15. Thomas-Gale  p. 314). In an eight-hour day it can carry a four hundred pound load a hundred miles across a hot, dry desert without stopping once for water or food. After crossing the desert, when it begins to consume food again, the hump soon builds up back to its healthy size.

A camel can survive for eight days without drinking water, causing it to lose as much as 220 pounds. As a result, it becomes very thin and boney. Because many of its billions of cells have lost their water content, its ribs now show through its skin (Grzimek, 1972, pp. 141-142). After camels reach a water hole, they will drink up to twenty-seven gallons of water (135 liters)–– about ten buckets full of water in about ten minutes (Grzimek, 1972, p. 143). They can then continue on their desert journey.

In camels the water first travels into its stomach, allowing its blood vessels to absorb and carry the water to every other part of its body. In a matter of minutes most of the water camels have swallowed travels to the many billions of cells that make up its flesh, changing its skinny body almost immediately. After drinking twenty gallons of water its stomach empties after only about ten minutes. Humans require several hours of spaced drinking before they can replace all of the water lost in a day spent in the desert.

Even though it loses a large amount of water when in a desert, its body has several complex built-in mechanisms to conserve it. For example, their body temperature can range from about 34˚C to about 41˚C without any ill effects. In humans only four degrees variation can negatively affect health. Its body temperature can increase up to 40˚C before it begins to perspire, saving a great deal of water. Its body temperature can also drop to 34˚C at night, thus it takes a much longer time to heat up in the day before it needs to perspire, again saving water (Grzimek, 1972, p. 142).

Humans begin to perspire after only a two-degree or so rise in their body temperature. A camel’s blood normally is 94 percent water, as also is humans. But when it is unable to drink, the sun’s heat gradually causes it to lose water from its blood, and it can safely lose up to 40 percent of the water in its blood without problems.

Human blood must remain very close to 94 percent water. If you lose five percent of your normal water, you lose vision; if ten percent you can no longer hear; if 12 percent your blood becomes as thick as molasses, causing your heart to stop (Grzimek, 1972, p. 141). One of the reasons for camel superiority in this area is that the Dromedary’s red blood cells are not donut shaped like those in most mammals, but elongated ovals, which allows them to flow more freely when the Camel is dehydrated.  Their blood cells can also handle large swings in water levels without rupturing, which is essential for the blood stream’s ability to store extra water.

Dromedaries also have a specially designed nose that retains water. When it exhales, its nose traps the warm, moist air from its lungs and the water is absorbed by its nasal membranes. Because its nose is cooled, the warm moisture in the air coming from its lungs is changed into liquid water. Its nose is as much as 10˚C cooler than the rest of its body, due to breathing in hot dry desert air that produces a cooling effect as it causes the evaporation of the water in its wet nasal passages. The tiny blood vessels in these membranes then recycle the water back into its blood. In contrast to humans, their urine contains very little water.  Rather it is a pasty substance about the consistency of syrup.

When windstorms cause sand storms, dromedaries have special muscles in their nostrils that reduce the opening size, thus preventing most sand from entering its nose, but still allowing the camels to take in enough air to survive. Its eyelashes arch down over its eyes like window shades, keeping both the sand and sun out, but still allowing it to see clearly. Its eyebrows are so thick and bushy that they must hold their heads high to see the ground. The eyebrows also shade its eyes from the bright sun. If a grain of sand gets on its eye surface, an inner eyelid called a nictitating membrane automatically wipes the sand off their eyeball.

Dromedaries travel on sand dunes due to their specially engineered “sand shoes.” Its hooves are wide, and become even wider when it steps down on the sand. Each foot has two long bony toes with tough, leathery skin between the toes that function like webbed feet to prevent it from sinking down into the soft, drifting sand. Trooping along at about ten miles per hour, they can carry two or more hundred pounds as far as one hundred miles in a single day of travel.

Camels have been called the ships of the desert because of the way they sway from side to side when they trot. The reason is that both legs on one side move forward simultaneously, elevating one side, then both legs on the other side move forward. This makes the rider feel as if he is in a rocking chair moving sideways. Some riders actually become seasick from the ride.

When camels are about six months old, thick kneepads begin to grow on their front legs that help them lower their close to 1,000 pound body to the ground. Lacking these protective pads, their knees would rapidly become sore and infected, and they would be unable to lie down. It does not develop thick kneepads from falling on their knees like humans would, but they can fall on their knees because their tough pads are designed into their knees by its genes

The mating season is fairly short, from February to March (Grzimek, 1972, p. 144). After a gestation length of from 365 to 440 days, they give birth to only one offspring. The female normally nurses her young for over a year (Grzimek, 2004, p. 317). The female dromedary nourished her young with very rich milk that humans can make into excellent butter and cheese.

The oldest written record of a camel is in the Bible, which tells the story of Abraham sending his servant to transfer ten camels from his homeland to Mesopotamia. When Grzimek first wrote, it was assumed that the “family camelidae originated in North America during the Eocene period 45 million years ago.” Rogers, et al., wrote that, though less complete, the evolution of camels resembles that of the horses. He added that as in the case of the horses, most of the evolution of this group occurred in North America” (Rogers, et al., 1942. Man and the Biological World. McGraw-Hill p. 398). Rogers added of presumed ancestor Protylopus in Eocene rock: “It was the size of a large rabbit; there were 44 teeth in a continuous row, the molars being low-crowned. …the forefoot had 4 separate functional toes, the hind foot 2 functional and 2 reduced toes.” ( p. 398). Obviously Protylopus was a very different animal than a camel, requiring, for this evolution story to be valid, radical changes including the loss of many structures.

One of the richest sites of mammal fossils in the world is the John Day Country of central Oregon. In the most detailed study of these fossils, Mitchell concluded that the camel fossil remains that have been found in the John Day area sediments include: “fossil camel remains for all of the genera from many locations look very similar. The main differences are the sizes of the skulls or bones. The evolutionist taxonomic categories for these fossil camels are based on cladistic analyses that tend to exaggerate the taxonomic importance of minor differences in the skulls, teeth and metatarsal bones.” (J. D. Mitchell. 2013. Discovering the Animals of Ancient Oregon. Leafcutter Press. Chapter 15 p. 193 emphasis in original).

One of the oldest camelid fossils ever found, estimated by evolutionists to be 1.8 to 2.5 millions years old,  is “strikingly similar to those of today’s” camelids (Merrel, 2013. Prehistoric Alpacas. <http://www.gatewayalpacas.com/alpacas/history-of-alpacas/prehistory.htm>; Meachen, 2005. A new species of Hemiauchenia (Artiodactyla, Camelidae) from the Late Blancan of Florida. Bulletin of Florida Museum of Natural History. 45 (4): 435-447).

We therefore can see that Dromedaries were well-designed and highly engineered for desert life. No clear evidence exists in the fossil record for their evolution. So many extinct and living animals look so much like camels, especially in their bone structure, that many animals could be chosen as their close relatives, or near relatives, based on fossils, yet these do not even begin to hint at an evolutionary route. Family Camelidae besides Dromedary and Bactrian, includes guanacos, llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas. In short, as to Camel evolution “paleontologists are not in agreement concerning … the evolution path, and [the] genetic relationships of these animals, due to the fragmentary nature of the fossils that have been found” (Mitchell, 2013, p. 191). The only conclusion from science is that the first Camel was a fully modern Camel and a wonderfully designed one, at that!

Jerry Bergman
December 2013

Subscribe to Dialogue