Camels: Ships of the Desert

Posted by on Aug 30, 2012 in Articles | 0 comments

Image Sources: Denise Chan / License under Creative Commons 2.0, and Neil Carey / License under Creative Commons 2.0

Camels are some of the most important beasts of burden known to man.  They have been used for thousands of years as the chief means of transport in desert regions.  Most people know that camels can go a long time without water, but few understand just how amazing these “ships of the desert” really are.

Indeed, camels can go for a week or more without water.  They can withstand dehydration of up to 25% of their body weight and then rehydrate amazingly rapidly by drinking up to 25 or 30 gallons in less than 10 minutes!  By contrast, man can withstand only about 12% dehydration, before his blood thickens to the point that it puts too much stress on the heart and circulation is reduced to the point of death.  Fortunately for the camel, its blood volume does not decrease as it becomes dehydrated; moisture is lost from other body tissues and fluids instead.

Camels have an amazing ability to conserve water and “beat the heat.”  At first glance, the thick wool coat seems to be a mistake, but in actuality, it helps to cool the animal by insulating it from the beating hot desert sun.  The hump is of special significance.  No, it is not filled with water – it is made up of stored fat which can be used as an important source of energy when food is scarce.  Some water is a by-product of metabolism, though.  The hump also helps in heat regulation, by concentrating body fat rather than distributing it under the skin.  This allows body heat to escape more readily.  Camels conserve water through their very efficient kidneys which excrete extremely concentrated wastes.  In addition, they lose very little through sweat, since their “normal” temperature fluctuates more than humans, ranging from 93 to 105 degrees and they do not start to sweat until body temperature reaches the upper end of the range.

Besides all this, camels are specially suited for desert travel.  Their wide hooves and long bony toes covered with tough skin help keep them from sinking into the sand.  In addition, they are equipped to deal with blowing sand: their nostrils close part way to keep out sand, their long eyelashes protect their eyes, and an inner eyelid acts like a windshield wiper if any sand does manage to sneak by.  As an added bonus, their mouths are so tough that they can eat almost anything, even a thorny old cactus.

Camels, like people, are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”  They clearly demonstrate the intelligence and ingenuity of our great Creator God.

By Dave Nutting

Originally published in the May/June 1991 Think and Believe newsletter.

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