Camelus bactrianusBactrian camel

Geographic Range

Camelus bactrianus occurs throughout Asia north of the Himalayan massif.

(Sanderson, 1961) (Nowak, 1997)


Bactrian camels inhabit arid regions. They are found along rivers in the Siberian steppe during winter but disperse into the desert when snows melt in spring. Temperatures range from -29 degrees Celsius in the winter to 38 degrees Celsius in the summer.

(Crump, 1981) (Nowak, 1997)

Physical Description

The most noticeable features of C. bactrianus are their two humps. At the hump, average height is 213 cm (7 feet). A thick, shaggy, dark brown to beige coat covers the camel during cold weather and is shed when the temperature rises. Longer hair hangs from the neck and gives the appearance of a beard. Bushy eyebrows, a double row of eyelashes, ears lined with hair and the ability to close nostrils and lips tightly serve as protection from harsh, blowing winds and sand. Their tough, even-toed feet help them to cross the rocky deserts of Asia and travel well through snow or sand.

(Crump, 1981; Boitani and Bartali, 1982; Vaughan, 1972) (Nowak, 1997)

  • Range mass
    450 to 500 kg
    991.19 to 1101.32 lb


Dominant males defend groups of females from other males during breeding seasons. (Nowak, 1997)

Mating season occurs in the fall. Males during this time are often violent and may bite, spit, or attempt to sit on other male camels. The age of sexual maturity varies, but is usually reached at three to five years. Gestation lasts thirteen months, with most young being born from March through April. One or occasionally two calves are produced. Females can give birth to a new calf every other year. The baby calf is precocial, having the ability to stand at birth and walk only a few hours after. The young calf stays with its mother for three to five years, until it reaches sexual maturity. Wild camels sometimes breed with domesticated or feral camels as well.

(Crump, 1981; Boitani and Bartali, 1982; Morris, 1965; Sanderson, 1961) (Nowak, 1997)

  • Breeding interval
    Female camels can reproduce once every two years.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs in the fall.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    13 months
  • Average gestation period
    395 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 to 5 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 to 5 years

Young bactrian camels are precocial, being able to stand and run soon after birth. They are nursed for about 1.5 years in the wild and are fully grown by 5 years of age. (Nowak, 1997)


Bactrian camels may live up to 50 years.

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    50 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    35.4 years


Wild bactrian camels are active mainly during the day and are generally found alone or in small groups of up to 30 animals. A population density of 5 camels per 100 square kilometers has been calculated for bactrian camels. They spend their time moving among grazing areas. (Nowak, 1997)

Domestic camels travel in caravans across the desert. An adult male acts as leader for a small group that may consist of six to twenty others. Constant speed must be maintained at all times while moving. To help ensure this tempo the camels move by pacing. Pacing consists of two legs on the same side of the body moving at once, creating a rolling motion. This shifts the weight from side to side; a passenger may find this movement very uncomfortable. Camels also have the capability to run and can do so at ten to twenty miles per hour.

(Carrington, 1963; Crump, 1981; Boitani and Bartali, 1982; Morris, 1965)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Camels are herbivores. They are able to eat plants that are dry, prickly, salty, and/or bitter, but prefer any kind of vegetation. When other nutrient sources are not available, these camels may feed on bones, other animals' skin, or different kinds of flesh. In more extreme conditions, they may eat rope, sandals, and even tents. Their ability to feed on a wide range of foods allows them to live in areas with sparse vegetation.

With tough mouths that can withstand sharp objects such as thorns, the digestion process begins. The first time food is swallowed it is not fully chewed. The partly masticated food (called cud) goes into the stomach and later is brought back up for further chewing.

Camels can go for several days without water. When water is available, they drink only to replace what is missing from their body. This amount can vary from nothing to 114 liters. Drinking the whole 114 liters of water takes only ten minutes. The camel also has the ability to quench its thirst with salty or brackish water. In the winter months, plants alone provide water.

A common misconception is that the camel's humps are for water storage. In reality, the humps contain a large amount of fat and are use for nourishment when food is scarce. This feature gives the camel the capability to go many days without eating. Each hump can hold up to 36 kg of fat. The hump decreases in size and become flabby as its contents are metabolized. Depletion of the hump is directly linked to the time between eating and the amount of energy expended. Thus, the size of the hump serves as an indication of C. bactrian's health, food supply and general well-being.

(Crump, 1981; Vaughan, 1972; Morris, 1965; Rice, 1901; Sanderson, 1961; McSpadden, 1947) (Nowak, 1997)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Close to 3,500 years ago people first tamed wild camels and domesticated them; now almost all are domestic. The original purpose of domestication was probably to use their size and strength. Camels carry packages long distances to market and are used as a form of transportation. By the age of one year, the camel can take voice cammands from their owner. Humans also use many of the camel's by-products, especially camel meat and milk. Fat from the humps is melted down and serves in cooking. Dung provides fuel for heating. Loose hair is used for making clothes, blankets, carpets, and tents. The tanned hide is used to make shoes, sandals, and other leather products. In some countries, camels are an indication of wealth.

(Crump, 1981; Rice, 1901)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Camels can have ill effects on humans. When very hungry, camels may eat people's possessions such as tents, sandals or blankets.

(Crump, 1981)

Conservation Status

Bactrian camels were thought to be extinct in the wild until an expedition found some wild C. bactrianus in the Gobi desert in 1957. These wild groups are in the severe danger of going extinct and little is known about them. The estimated number of wild camels ranges from 400 to 700 animals in Mongolia and 200 in China. Compared to domestic camels, wild camels have smaller humps, smaller feet, shorter hair and a more slender body shape.

(Crump, 1981; Boitani and Bartali, 1982; Boorer, 1971; Morris, 1965) (Nowak, 1997)

Other Comments

The average life span in captivity ranges from twenty to thirty years.

In some countries camel fighting exerts a form of entertainment.

Camel races are a popular sport in Morocco. The camels go at fast paces similar to race horses.

(Morris, 1965; Rice, 1901; Sanderson, 1961; McSpadden, 1947)

Camels can swim (Philip Gee, personal communication ).


Jennifer L. Fedewa (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.


having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


Boitani, L. and S. Bartoli. 1982. Simon and Schuster's Guide to Mammals. Simon and Schuster, Inc., New York.

Carrington, R. 1963. The Mammals. Time Inc., New York.

Crump, D.J. ed. 1981. Book of the Mammals National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.

McSpadden, J.W. ed. 1947. Animals of the World. Garden City Publishing Co., Inc., Garden City.

Morris, D. 1965. The Mammals. Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., New York.

Rice, W. 1901. Animals. The Throw Press, New York.

Sanderson, I. T. 1961. Living Mammals of the World. Doubleday and Co. Inc., Garden City.

Vaughan, T.A., 1972. Mammalogy. W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia.

Nowak, R. 1997. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Accessed August 03, 2003 at