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Camels (extant/living species; Camelus spp.): Diet & Feeding

Camels (Camelus spp.)

Diet and Feeding


  • Ruminants (cud-chewing mammals) usually have 4 stomachs (occasionally 3).
    • Plant material partially broken down in the 1st two stomachs, then regurgitated as cud and chewed again.
    • Microbes (bacteria, protozoa, and fungi) in other stomach chambers assist in digestion.
    • Other ruminants: antelopes, sheep, goats, cattle, giraffes and bison and deer.
  • Camels graze (like sheep) and browse (like antelopes).
  • Move while feeding no matter how rich or poor the vegetation (do not degrade desert flora).
  • Mainly grasses, leaves and twigs of shrubs and trees - all plants of the desert.
    • Green shoots of saxaul (Haloxylon)
    • Stems and foliage of Salsola, Ephedra, Zygophyllum
    • Species in Mongolia include:Caragana, Haloxylon, Reaumuria, Salsola
  • At oases: poplar, willows and reeds
  • Camels recognize poisonous plants growing in the area and will not eat them.
    • May eat poisonous plants in new, unfamiliar area,
  • Can eat sharp, thorny plants other animals can’t eat (e.g., saltbush).


  • Able to go without water for a long time (generally thought to be 4-5 days).(Wilson, 1998)
    • When dehydrated, body temperature can lower to 34°C to as high as 41°C.
    • Produce small amounts of concentrated thick urine.
    • Kept in same conditions, cattle lose water 3 times faster than camels
  • If the camel is kept near a water source or river, it may drink daily.
  • In cold weather, and when green feed is available, may not drink water for months
  • A thirsty camel in a hot dry season can drink up to 200 liters of water in one day. (Gauthier-Pilters, 1981)


  • Salt is very important for the camel. It needs eight times as much salt as do cattle and sheep.

No Pain-in-the-Mouth

Dromedary camel

Camels have tough mouths and can eat sharp, thorny plants that other animals can’t eat.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

FAO (1994)
Bannikov (1976)
Gauthier-Pilters (1981)
Wilson (1998)

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