Humans who travel to the desert need to be sure to bring along plenty of food and water.
Still, the dry desert heat can quickly take a toll on their health. With this in mind, how do animals like camels manage to survive in the desert?
Camels can easily survive in harsh desert environments because of their many adaptations.
Here are several features that enable them to thrive in their habitat:
- Long eyelashes
- A third eyelid
- Dehumidifying noses
- Rough lips and tongues
- Insulating fur
- Fat-storing humps
- Heat-resistant pads
- Concentrated waste
- Wide feet
- Thermoregulation capabilities
- A reduced need for water
- A brain-cooling mechanism
- Oval-shaped blood cells
Continue reading to learn about each of the different adaptations camels have that make them perfectly suited to living in a hot, dry environment.
Camels have a variety of adaptations that make it possible for them to survive and even thrive in their desert habitat.
Camels have very long, thick eyelashes that protect their eyes from dust and sand, which are common in the desert.
Camels have a third eyelid, which is called a nictitating membrane. This eyelid is transparent, and its main purpose is to keep the eyes clear of sand.
Camels’ noses act as dehumidifiers. When humans exhale, the air is the same temperature as their body, and as a result, they lose water in the form of vapor each time they breathe out.
This isn’t the case for camels, though. Camels’ mucus membranes cool the air they exhale so that the water vapor is removed and reabsorbed into their bodies. This way, they avoid losing water as they breathe.
Another feature of camels’ noses that enables them to survive in the desert is their nostrils. Camels have the ability to close their slit-shaped nostrils in order to keep sand out of them.
Rough Lips And Tongues
Yet another adaptation that makes camels perfect for their desert habitat is the rough texture of their tongues and lips. Because the skin on and around their mouths is so rough, camels are able to consume thorny and prickly plants.
Camels’ mouths also contain firm, fleshy protrusions called papillae that keep the food they eat from injuring them.
Although you’d think camels’ thick fur would cause them to sweat, it functions as insulation and protection from the heat. Camels that have been shorn actually sweat more!
Camels have thick fur on the top of their bodies for shade and sun protection. Everywhere else, they have thin fur. This allows for easy heat loss.
During the summer, camels’ fur helps them avoid getting sunburnt by reflecting light.
Although it’s often assumed that camels’ humps store water, they actually store fat. This fat can be broken down and converted into energy and hydration when camels don’t have access to sustenance and fresh water.
The sand in camels’ desert environments can be extremely hot, but camels have adapted to this by developing thick, leathery pads in certain areas on their bodies. These heat-resistant pads can be found on camels’ elbows, knees, sternums, and feet.
Thanks to this adaptation, camels are able to lie down in the desert sand without sustaining burns.
An adaptation that helps camels avoid water loss is their concentrated waste. Thanks to their well-adapted kidneys, camels’ urine is thick and syrupy. Their feces doesn’t allow for water loss, either; it’s dry enough to function as a fire starter.
Since camels can weigh more than 1300 pounds, an easy assumption to make is that they would sink into the soft sand in the desert.
Luckily, their feet have adapted to be wide and similar to snowshoes. Thanks to their round shape and large size of their feet, camels can easily distribute their weight and avoid sinking.
There are several factors that play into camels’ thermoregulation abilities.
First, camels hardly ever sweat; they’re very adept at tolerating high temperatures. When camels sweat, the moisture doesn’t evaporate from the tips of their fur. Instead, it evaporates directly from their skin, creating a cooling effect.
During the daytime, a camel’s body temperature fluctuates quite a bit. Throughout the day, its body temperature rises, and at night, it falls.
In addition, camels store the vast majority of their fat in their humps, rather than throughout their bodies.
This enhances their thermoregulation capabilities by making it easier for camels to release the heat from their bodies.
Reduced Need For Water
One of the primary reasons that camels can survive in the desert is that they have a highly reduced need for water in comparison to other animals.
During winter or in mild climates, camels can go several months without drinking water. In hot conditions, they can go as long as ten days without water.
They may lose as much as one-third of their body weight due to dehydration, but they will survive.
To put this into perspective, most other mammals would die before they even lost one-sixth of their body weight from dehydration.
Another related adaptation is the impressive amount of water that camels are able to drink in one sitting.
They can drink one-third of their body weight in water, which can be around 29 gallons, in just over ten minutes.
For other animals, this would result in death. Camels, though, can store large amounts of the water they consume in their gut for a full day so that they don’t dilute their blood.
The blood entering a camel’s brain is almost 40°F cooler than its body temperature. The reason for this is an artery that splits up into multiple blood vessels on the backside of the brain.
These blood vessels come into contact with small veins that transport blood from the camel’s nasal passages.
The blood from the original artery exchanges heat with the blood in the small veins, which has been cooled thanks to the dehumidifying effect of the camel’s nose.
Because of this adaptation, camels’ brains remain cool enough to function properly, even when their body temperatures are extremely high.
Oval-Shaped Blood Cells
Even when camels are extremely dehydrated, the viscosity or thickness of their blood remains mostly unchanged.
This is a huge factor in camels handling the high heat and dehydration that comes along with life in the desert.
Most mammals have round red blood cells, but camels have oval-shaped cells that can double in size upon rehydration.
The oval shape of camels’ red blood cells makes it easy for them to flow quickly, maintain a constant composition, and retain normal hemoglobin function.
From their heads to their toes, camels have numerous adaptations that make it easy for them to survive in the desert.
They have long eyelashes and a third eyelid to keep sand out of their eyes, as well as dehumidifying noses that prevent them from losing water when they exhale.
Camels also have rough lips and tongues that enable them to eat prickly plants without damaging their mouths.
Another adaptation is their insulating fur, which helps to keep them cool and prevents sunburns.
Fat-storing humps are a crucial camel characteristic that allows them to go long periods without food and water.
Heat-resistant pads on their elbows, knees, sternums, and feet keep camels from getting burnt by the hot sand when they lie down.
Camels’ concentrated waste prevents water loss, and their wide feet keep them from sinking into the sand.
These animals also have advanced thermoregulation capabilities, a reduced need for water, a brain-cooling mechanism, and oval-shaped blood cells, all of which help them to survive in the desert.
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