Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

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

Camels (Camelus spp.)


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.



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


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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 Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

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

SDZWA Library Links