Skip to main content
sdzglibrarybanner San Diego Zoo Global Library

Camels (extant/living species; Camelus spp.): Behavior & Ecology

Camels (Camelus spp.)

General

Behavior notes

  • Domestic camels are maintained in a semi-wild state.
    • Obtain food from wild vegetation, water from humans.
    • Unguarded camels will return to a familiar well.
  • Wild camels extremely shy
    • Acute eyesight allows them to spot danger 2-3 miles away and flee

Activity Cycle

  • Browse or graze 6-8 hours and chew cud another 6-8 hours each day.
    • Constant work required to maintain health on low-nutrient desert plant life.
  • Previously, migrated seasonally to green pastures.
    • Movements now curtailed by human settlements.

Social Behavior

Social groups

  • Form small groups of ~6 (2-15 animals).
  • Gather at oases and small springs.

Communication

Displays

  • Rutting male stretches to hold head higher than a rival.

Vocalizations

  • Rutting cry: “blo-blo-blo"

Smell and scent marking

  • Male rubs back of head against shoulders (occipital gland)
  • Secretions tend to excite males

Agonistic Behavior and Defense

Aggression

  • Dromedaries may blow out (spit) cud when excited.
  • Bactrian camels do not deliberately spit (may if abused).
  • Little aggressive behavior except among males during breeding season.
  • Adults may push with lowered head and neck.
  • Canine teeth used as weapons.
  • Extreme fights can result in death of both combatants.

Interspecies Interactions

With domestic species

  • Integral part of nomad culture
    • Domesticated by nomads 3,000-4,000 years ago
    • Still important part of nomad life in the Sahara
    • Provide meat, milk, hides, wool
      • Females can produce milk for several years after birth
        • Bactrian: 5 liters/day
        • Dromedary: 20 liters/day
    • Males used for transport and riding
      • Easily carry 200 kg (440 lb)
      • Can pull more than 1 ton with a wheeled cart
      • Convex back allows camels to carry more than a horse.
        • Load is limited by the weight it can rise with.
  • Used in combat
    • Used because of their ability to scare horses
      • Camel smell spooks horses
    • U.S. Army camel corps stationed in California in the 1800s

Locomotion

  • Normal gait is a “pace”
    • One foreleg and one hind leg on same side of body move forward together.
    • Horses, dogs and bears can also “pace” but more often “trot” (foreleg and diagonally opposite hind leg move together).
  • If necessary, can travel 150 km (93 mi) in 15-20 hours.
  • Maximum speeds
    • Up to 65 km/hr (40 mi/hr) in short bursts
    • Up to 40 km/hr (25 mi/hr) sustained speed
  • Domestic camels have been known to swim (observed in Australia).

Nutritious Milk

Bactrian camel calf nursing from mother

A large calf nurses from its mother.

Weaning occurs at 1-2 years old. Nomadic tribes use camel milk to produce yogurt and butter.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Gauthier-Pilters & Dagg (1981)
Tulgat & Schaller (1992)
Bannikov (1976)

SDZG Library Links