The camel is at the center of Arabian culture and has been since the early 18th century. They are so vital to the economy and culture that there are 160 words for camel in Arabic. Although the nomadic people of Arabia have declined to 1 percent of the population, the camel is still used by them as it was 300 years ago. There are two types of camel, the Bactrian camel with two humps and the Dromedary camel with one.
Although camels are associated with the Arabian deserts, camels live in arid conditions on almost every continent, even China and Australia, where they are feral. Camels thrive in austere conditions because their capacity to store water and food allows them to live where there are no predators to competing for food.
By age six or seven the camel, has reached maturity, measures 6 to 6 1/2 feet tall and weighs between 550 to 1,500 pounds. Each of the two toes that make up a camel's foot looks like a toenail. They also have a sphere of fat that pads the foot and works like snowshoes to support the camel on the sand. A camel's thin legs have powerful muscles that enable the camel to be used for transporting goods over long distances. A comfortable weight to carry is about 330 pounds. Although a camel's ears are small, its hearing is excellent. A camel's large, soft eyes are protected by very long, double eyelashes that protect the camel from blowing sand. A camel's large nostrils can be closed or opened to cool the incoming air.
Camels are omnivores and browsers. Because camels have stiff hairs in their noses and tough muscular skin in their mouths, they can push their way into thorny vegetation. They eat the salty plants that grow near salt lakes. In the winter months, camels can get enough moisture from plants to go as much as 50 days without water. However in the summer, they may go only five days without water. Camels prefer fresh vegetation but can become omnivores, eating plants, bones, fish, meat and occasionally the leather from their owner's tent. Camels can drink 30 gallons of water in 10 minutes.
Trained over thousands of years ago by spice traders, these animals could make the long trip from Southern Arabia to the Middle East. They were used for carrying goods and baggage. Although preferring to walk, they can also gallop. Their wool is used for making rugs and clothing. The flesh is eaten for meat. Because their fats are stored only in the hump, the meat from a camel is cholesterol-free.
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