Camel Vs. Horse: 13 Key Differences [Explained]

Photo: Bryan Arauz / Shutterstock

Camels and horses are two domesticated, utilitarian animals. However, wild populations still exist in many parts of the world. 

Wild horses can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Camels only occur in the wild in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia.

These animals have always been used for similar purposes, but what are the differences exactly? 

Camels are stronger than horses and can carry heavier loads. They also have better endurance, being able to walk for days on end under the blasting sun while surviving on little water. Horses have a greater bite force and are faster than camels. Both animals are considered to have above-average intelligence compared to other animals, but camels are smarter.

The table below shows a quick list of facts about horses vs. camels*:

Classification (family)CamelidaeEquidae
Appearance Large bodies with a long curved neck and one or two humps, depending on species. Color varies from caramel to deep gray. Pad-shaped feet adapted for traveling on sand.Muscular yet slender bodies with long thick necks and elongated heads. Manes extend along the dorsal side of the neck. Color varies from white to black. Single-hoof feet resist stress and enable horses to gain speed.
Size7.2 to 11.5 feet long7.2 to 9.1 feet long
Weight660 to 1,500 pounds500 to 2,200 pounds
Speed20 to 25 mph40 to 55 mph
Endurance (time without water)7 months 48 to 72 hours
Carrying capacity  375 to 600 pounds100 to 440 pounds
Bite force398 PSI500 PSI
Diet HerbivoreHerbivore 
Behavior SocialSocial 
Reproduction Polygamous; 2-year breeding intervalPolygamous; breeding once a year
Lifespan (in the wild)40 years36 years
Geographic rangeAfrica, Asia, Middle EastWorldwide

*Data in the table above refers to camels and horses in general. Factors and specifics can vary from one subspecies to another. All data was sourced from research papers, journals, studies, and other official sources.

Camel Vs. Horse: 13 Key Differences 

Photo: Sinisa Stanisic / Shutterstock

1. Classification 

Camels and horses both are herbivores, but they belong to different families.

Camels are part of the Camelidae family, together with llamas, guanacos, and alpacas. Horses belong to the Equidae family, together with zebras and asses. 

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Horses share an order with rhinoceros and tapirs, whereas camels are included in the Artiodactyla genus, even-toed ungulates.

2. Appearance 

Both horses and camels are large ungulates, but their appearance couldn’t be more diverse. 

Horses have long muscular legs and bodies. Their necks are also long and muscular, characterized by a longer or shorter mane, depending on breed.

Coats are smooth and shiny, with colors that can vary from white to black and everything in-between, including roan and pinto horses which have multiple hues.

Camels also have long and muscular legs, but the bodies are stockier and characterized by one or two humps. They also have long and curved necks, while their face and mouths are similar to llamas.

A camel’s coat is thicker and coarser compared to horses, with colors that vary from yellowish-brown to a darker brown. 

3. Size

Camels and horses grow to similar sizes, but camels tend to be slightly larger. 

In detail, camels grow between 7.2 to 11.5 feet in length. Most adult horses are also at least 7.2 feet in length, but the largest rarely get over 9.1 feet long. 

Height-wise, horses grow to about 5.75 feet tall at the shoulder, whereas most camels are over 7 feet at the hump.

4. Weight

Despite their smaller size, horses are usually heavier than camels. Depending on the breed, horses can weigh up to 2,200 pounds

Camels are a lot lighter, with the heaviest individuals not exceeding 1,500 pounds

The higher heft of horses is generally explained by their uses.

Wild horses are rather rare nowadays; domesticated horses are bred either for utilitarian purposes or racing, and both uses require strong muscles. Hence, their heavier weight. 

5. Speed

Horses are often associated with racing and high speeds. Camels are often envisioned as laid-back but resistant animals that can walk for days on end through deserts, but they are not expected to be fast.

In fact, horses are about two times faster than camels, reaching speeds up to 55 miles per hour

Camels can gallop at speeds up to 25 miles per hour, but they are usually a lot slower than this.

6. Endurance (Time Without Water)

Despite their poorer speed performance, camels are a lot more resistant than horses – they can survive on little water for up to seven months and can go for up to 15 days without drinking a single drop.

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During this time, they can keep on walking through the desert while carrying loads.

Comparatively, horses can only survive without water for about 72 hours. However, most horses will lose their performance after about 24-48 hours.

Camels have such outstanding endurance thanks to their humps.

These protrusions don’t actually store water; humps are made up of fatty tissue that camels can transform into water and nourishment in periods of scarce resource availability.

As camels consume these deposits, the humps shrink in size and become limp. They get back to their original shape and size once the animal gets access to resources. 

7. Carrying Capacity  

Their ability to survive without water for a long time is just one of the things camels are capable of. They can also carry heavier loads than horses.

On average, camels can carry between 375 and 600 pounds on their backs, which is about 40% of their body mass. However, some of the strongest individuals can carry up to 900 pounds

According to research, horses can safely carry about 20% of their body mass, which turns out to be around 100 to 440 pounds. 

Even though a horse could carry loads up to 35% of their own weight, this is still lower than the load camels can carry.

8. Bite Force

While camels are stronger physically, horses have a stronger bite. However, both mammals have jaws strong enough to inflict serious injuries. 

According to research, camels have a bite force of 28kg/cm2, which is the equivalent of 398 PSI. This force is high enough to tear the flesh off bones.

Horses have even stronger jaws, their bite force reaching 500 PSI. Not only can they tear the flesh off bones, but they can actually crush bones with a single bite.

9. Diet

Both camels and horses are herbivores, although their diets vary based on the areas where they live.

Horses are grazers and eat a high amount of grasses and cloves. In the wild, horses also eat fruits, leaves, tree buds, and sometimes even bark

Domestic horses usually eat a high amount of cereal and hay, especially in the colder months. 

Camels are also primarily grazers, but they live in harsher climates. Thus, they often take advantage of whatever vegetation is available.

Similar to horses, domesticated camels eat higher amounts of grains and hay.

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10. Behavior 

Camels and horses alike are social mammals that typically live in herds. 

Wild or feral horse herds have a clear social hierarchy and typically consist of one to four stallions and up to 11 mares with their offspring. 

Each herd has an alpha male that dominates over all herd members. All stallions dominate the females, while breeding females dominate the non-reproductive females and the young. 

Camels live in groups of up to 20 individuals, but their social structure is generally based on family. Herds – of caravans – consist of one male, several females, subadults, and young. 

Both species are nomadic, but camels are diurnal, whereas wild horses are typically crepuscular.

11. Reproduction 

While the social structures of camels and horses are similar, there are slight variations in their reproduction systems. 

Both species are polygamous, although male camels typically prevent the females in their herd from mating with other males. 

On average, female camels reach sexual maturity when they are about three years old and typically breed once every two years

Horse females reach sexual maturity between one and four years of age and usually breed once a year

12. Lifespan 

Camels and horses have similar life expectancies, even though camels have slightly longer lifespans. 

Specifically, camels can live up to 40 years in the wild. Wild horses have a lifespan of about 36 years

However, the situation is the opposite for animals in captivity – camels have a lifespan of about 50 years, whereas horses can live up to 61 years.

13. Geographic Range

A difference between camels and horses is their geographic range, with camels occurring in fewer areas compared to horses.

Although wild horse populations aren’t very frequent, their geographic range spans all continents, except for Antarctica. 

Camels only occur in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Which One Is Smarter?

Horses are famous for living in symbiosis with their owners. But are they actually smarter than camels? 

According to a study, dromedary and Bactrian camels alike have an encephalization quotient (EQ) value of 1.3. Horses have an EQ of 0.78

The encephalization quotient is a value researchers use to compare intelligence between species. According to this data, camels are smarter than horses.

Read More About Camels:

  1. How Do Camels Survive In The Desert?
  2. How Much Water Can A Camel Drink?
  3. Can Camels Have 3 Humps?
  4. Do Camels Eat Meat?
  5. Do Camels Eat Snakes?

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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