Camels come in two types: dromedary or one-hump camels and bactrian or two-hump camels. The bactrian is native to Central Asia, while the dromedary comes from the Middle East and northern Africa. Both species have very similar diets and eating habits, regardless of where they live.
General Diet Rules
Camels are herbivores and will graze—eat constantly throughout the day—just as sheep do. Camels are also ruminants, which means they eat food, then regurgitate it and chew it before swallowing one last time. This is why camels have four stomachs, to help them process food properly. Because they live in the desert, where food might be scarce, they move constantly while eating. This actually helps preserve vegetation so no area is completely degraded by constant eating.
What They Actually Eat
Food choices are limited in the desert, so the camel is not exactly picky. Whatever twigs, stems and green shoots are available—except poisonous plants, which the camel can recognize—he will eat. The camel will even eat plants like saltbush, which are thorny and which most other animals will ignore. Camels near oases have more access to greener options, such as willows and poplar leaves and twigs.
What the Humps Are All About
The humps of the camel are for fat storage, not water storage as many people believe. According to National Geographic, the humps can store as much as 80 pounds of fat, which can be easily broken down and used for nourishment—in place of both food and water—when nothing else is available. The humps alone are enough to keep a camel alive for a couple of weeks without eating or drinking.
The Water Issue
In winter, when greener food is available, camels might be able to go a long time without water, because they get enough hydration from the green food they're eating. How long depends on how much greenery they're eating, though. When water is easily available, the camel will drink lots of it—up to 30 gallons in a matter of minutes.
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Tammy Dray has been writing since 1996. She specializes in health, wellness and travel topics and has credits in various publications including Woman's Day, Marie Claire, Adirondack Life and Self. She is also a seasoned independent traveler and a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant. Dray is pursuing a criminal justice degree at Penn Foster College.