Camels can survive some of the most extreme conditions on the planet. They have humps filled with rich fat that their bodies break down and convert to energy when they have no access to food and water, and they have lips that enable them to graze on short grass shoots while also being able to chew thorny bushes.

The leathery lips, combined with a protective inner mouth lining, also enable camels to be able to eat cacti, providing them with an invaluable source of moisture and food. In short, yes, camels can eat cactus.


About Camels

Camels in Arabia
Image Credit: Yasser El Dershaby, Shutterstock

Native to Africa and Asia, camels live in arid deserts where food is hard to come by, and water even rarer. They get a lot of their water requirements from the plants that they eat, which means that they can go for several months without directly drinking from a water source. They also have humps although, while some people mistakenly believe these to be a reserve of water, they contain fat.

The camel’s body breaks down the fat in the hump and converts it to energy when they do not have access to any food or water. This enables the animal to go for long periods without eating and drinking.

Camel Diet

Camels are considered herbivores. They survive on the grass and plants that they find in the desert, but if they can’t find suitable vegetation, they will also scavenge meat from dead animals. And, where food isn’t available at all, they will call on the fat reserves found in their humps.

Domestic camels live on a similar diet to wild camels. They will graze on plants and plant matter. They may be given hay, too, and will usually enjoy greater access to water sources than their wild counterparts.

Camels can and do also eat cacti, despite the threatening spines that would cause most animals to stay away. Camels have a number of tools to help them eat the cacti. Camels’ lips are split, which enables them to get down and eat short grass, even when it is very close to the ground, and these lips are also more leathery than the lips of other animals. This makes it possible to chew on spines and prongs. A camel mouth has a hard roof that protects from potential injury caused by the spines, and their mouths are coated in papillae, providing yet more protection.

Papillae help direct food down to the camel’s stomach without them stabbing the inside of the mouth. These papillae are made of keratin, which is the same hard material that human nails are made of.

Other Cactus-Eating Animals

Rabbit Eating Cactus
Image Credit: Charles T. Peden, Shutterstock

Camels aren’t the only animals that eat cacti. Some species of rabbit, especially the jackrabbit, eat the base of cacti because there are no thorns that low down.

Similarly, rats can determine which sections of the plant are prickly and then avoid these areas while eating the smoother sections. Other animals that can eat the plant include ground squirrels and gophers.

What Do Camels Eat?

Wild Bactrian Camel
Image Credit: Maria, Pixabay

Camels will eat almost any vegetation that they can find in desert regions. This includes cacti as well as other plants and grasses. Their split lip makes it possible to eat even very short grass, which wouldn’t be possible if they had whole lips like other animals. They will also eat the remains of dead animals if they do not have access to vegetation like plants and grass.

Can Camels Eat Fish?

Camels have been known to eat fish. Although rare, it is more common in those camels that live near the sea because they have greater access to fish.

Can Camels Eat Snakes?

Again, it is rare, but camels will eat snakes if they do not have access to any other food source. They can even eat some venomous snakes because their digestive system, which can include three or four stomachs, can break down and destroy the toxins in the snakes.

divider-multipet Conclusion

Camels are amazing animals that have evolved to be able to survive the harsh desert conditions where they live. They have an arsenal of tools at their disposal to help aid their survival. They have up to four stomachs to break down food, protective layers in their mouths that enable them to eat all parts of the cactus including the thorns, and lips that split so that they can eat very short grass that would otherwise be impossible to consume. And, of course, it has its humps.

Camel humps are filled with fat that their bodies can convert into energy when they do not have access to food and water. On occasion, this incredible animal will also eat meat, although it is generally considered a herbivore that consumes only plant material.

Featured Image Credit: Saj Shafique, Unsplash