The camel (Camelus dromedarius) is an animal unlike any other. This mammal has played a significant role in society by providing meat, milk, fur, and transportation. But their ability to survive the nasty desert sets them apart from other animals.

If camels had their own survival show, they could teach us a thing or two about the desert. How they find and store food is one of a kind. But since they don’t, we’ll share some of the camels’ secrets for enduring the sandy terrain. Generally, camels can eat 13.5–17.5 pounds of pellet feed and hay daily.

Let’s begin with a common question: what do camels eat?

divider-multipet The Camel Diet: What Do They Eat?

Camels are herbivores, meaning they eat mainly plant matter, so it’s hard to imagine a camel could find food in the desert. But camels have adapted to the harsh, blistering desert weather, making them tough as nails.

Camels can find food just about anywhere. They eat plant matter most animals don’t eat. Still, we can’t help but wonder what’s growing in the desert in the first place. What do camels know that we don’t?

Surprisingly, the desert isn’t as sterile as we might think. There are several types of plants growing out of the sand, such as:
  • Cactus
  • Dry brush and leaves
  • Thorns
  • Desert flowers
  • Desert trees
  • Yucca plants
  • Succulents
  • Hay
  • Pelleted feed

If they have to, camels will eat meat to survive. Most camels are domesticated, so they don’t need to forage for food as much as wild camels do. But the instinct to eat anything and everything is still hotwired in their DNA.

Image Credit: Kenneth Keifer, Shutterstock

How Much Food Do Camels Eat and Drink?

Camels are constantly munching, but how much a camel eats depends on location and availability. They overeat for this reason. In captivity, camels can get 13–17.5 pounds of pellet feed and hay daily.

Camels weigh between 900 and 2,200 pounds, so they must eat and drink enough to maintain this weight. If they don’t have access to food daily, the body will feed off the stored fat in the hump. Their weight fluctuates a little bit, but that’s okay.

Camels can also go up to 15 days without drinking water if they have to. When they rehydrate, camels can drink as much as 15–25 gallons of water. Take that, barren desert!

How Do Camels Know What to Eat?

Camels don’t rely on grandma’s recipe cookbook to be passed down from generation to generation. So, how do they know what to eat to survive? It all comes down to years of evolution and personal experience. Camels were forced to eat whatever they could find, and if nothing bad happened, the food was added to the grocery list.

Desert plants aren’t easy to eat, so camels had to evolve to digest the food. A camel’s mouth is a big reason why it can swallow cacti and other desert plants whole.

On the outside, camels have tough lips. On the inside, camels have cone-shaped papillae that help direct the food in a specific direction and protect their mouths. They also have hard upper palates that work with the teeth to help grind food.

Here’s a video of a camel enjoying some cacti for lunch. You can see how the camel maneuvers the cactus so that the thorns don’t hurt its mouth.

Surviving the Desert

You don’t have to visit the desert to know it’s an unpleasant terrain. It’s unbearably hot, food is scarce, and you lose precious water faster than you can find it. Camels have adapted to this lifestyle, so it’s just another day for them. Aside from their eating and drinking habits, camels have other unique characteristics that help them survive the desert.

With little to no food available, camels can withstand protein deficiency longer than other animals. This is because of their lovely hump. Most people believe it stores water. But as we mentioned earlier, the hump stores fat.

Because camels only store fat in one place, the rest of the body doesn’t hold onto heat as much, preventing camels from overheating and minimizing sweat. Oddly enough, camels only sweat at 106°F.

divider-multipet Wrapping It Up

As you can see, camels have the upper hand in the desert. Their unique anatomy, foraging expertise, and ability to conserve water are why camels can survive even the worst drought conditions. Camels can also thank the plants that evolved to survive the dry desert.

All in all, camels will eat just about anything. Serve it on a silver platter, and a camel will likely swallow it. You can’t blame the camel. After all, if you lived in the desert, you’d also eat whatever you could find.

Featured Image Credit: julian_salomon, Pixabay