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Issue Features
Discovery Magazine 12/1/1998

Camels—"Ships of the Desert"

If someone were to ask you to name an animal that lives in the desert, what animal might you think of? Would it be the camel? If so, that’s not surprising. Of all the animals that live in the desert, camels probably are the most famous—and for good reason! These huge mammals are one of God’s most intriguing creations.

There are two kinds of camels. The first, known as an Arabian, or dromedary, camel, has a single hump on its back. The other, known as a Bactrian camel, has two humps. Scientists do not know exactly why some camels have two humps, while others have only one, but it may be that God designed them this way because they live in different climates. In their wild state, Bactrian camels live only in the Gobi desert of Mongolia where it gets extremely cold. Domesticated Bactrian camels may be found in Afghanistan, Turkey, the Soviet Union, Iran, and China. Nearly all dromedary camels are domesticated, and live in northern Africa, Australia, and central Asia.

Camels are known as the "ships of the desert." They can glide across desert sands with ease, and provide one of the most important modes of transportation for people in desert areas. Dromedary camels can travel at speeds of up to 8 to 10 miles per hour for up to 18 hours! Bactrian camels are slower, traveling at speeds of around 5 miles per hour. But they can maintain this speed for longer periods of time over great distances (about 30 miles a day), and can carry extremely heavy loads (equivalent to 8 large suitcases!) in the process.

Except for giraffes, camels are the tallest land-living animals, sometimes growing up to 7 feet. And talk about well designed! Camels have wide, cushioned feet that spread out as they walk. This helps them maneuver in the sand. They have tough pads on their chests and knees that help support their body weight when they kneel down. To protect themselves from sandstorms, they have not one, but two rows of eyelashes, and can close their nostrils completely.

People used to think that camels stored water in their humps, but this is incorrect. Actually, camels store water in small, flask-shaped bags that line the insides of their stomachs, which have three sections. Camels can exist with very little food and water if they need to. Strong digestive systems help them get the most water and nutrients from the thorny plants, leaves, twigs, shrubs, and dried grasses they eat (and that most other animals wouldn’t think of eating). When there is plenty of food, they eat a lot and store fat in their humps. And when they are thirsty, they can drink as much as 25 gallons of water in 10 minutes! They conserve water because they hardly ever sweat, and because their nostrils remove moisture from their breath and recirculate it through their bodies.

These "ships of the desert" truly are amazing creatures. Who could have designed such an unusual animal except our heavenly Father, God?!

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