What Types of Food do Camels Eat to Survive in the Desert?

As we picture the vast and harsh expanse of the desert, one animal comes to mind as the ultimate survivor – the camel. With its distinct hump, long legs, and tough demeanor, the camel is an expert in navigating through the arid wilderness. But have you ever wondered what fuels this extraordinary animal? What do camels eat to survive in the desert? Join us as we delve into the wonderful world of camels and their unique diet.

What Do Camels Eat in the Wild?

What Do Camels Eat In The Wild?
When we think of the Sahara desert, we often picture a herd of camels wandering through the harsh terrain. But how do these animals survive in an environment where water and food are scarce? It’s remarkable to see how camels have adapted to their surroundings by developing unique behaviors and physical features. In this section, we will explore the diet of camels in the wild and discover what makes it possible for them to thrive in the desert ecosystem. Learn more about the role of camels in the desert ecosystem and their fascinating adaptations to survive harsh desert climates.

Camel’s Diet in General

Camels are known for their ability to survive in harsh environments, such as the desert. They are adapted to consume a wide variety of foods, including plants and animals. In general, camels are herbivores, which means they mainly eat plants. They have a four-chambered stomach that is able to break down tough vegetation and extract nutrients from it.

Camels also have the unique ability to go for long periods of time without water, which allows them to consume plants with lower water content. They are able to store excess food and water in their humps, which helps them survive during times when food and water are scarce. You can read more about camel humps here.

Despite their ability to survive without water for long periods of time, camels still require water to survive. They are able to drink up to 40 gallons of water at once, which is stored in their bloodstream, allowing them to go without water for several days. You can read more about camels’ ability to store water here.

In addition to their ability to consume tough vegetation and go without water for long periods of time, camels are also adapted to extreme temperatures. They are able to maintain a steady body temperature even in the extreme heat of the desert. You can read more about how camels maintain their body temperature here.

All of these unique adaptations allow camels to survive in the harsh desert environment. Whether they are consuming plants or animals, camels have a versatile diet that allows them to obtain the nutrients they need to survive. You can read more about the other survival adaptations of camels in the desert here.

Camel’s Diet in the Desert

Camels are known for their ability to survive in harsh desert climates where vegetation is limited. Their diet in the desert varies significantly from their diet in other habitats.

Camels in the desert primarily feed on:

  • Tough and thorny vegetation, such as desert shrubs and salty bushes
  • Cactus
  • Grasses

These food sources are high in fiber, which helps camels to maintain a healthy digestive system, and they also do not require a lot of water to grow. Camels can eat a variety of plants that other animals cannot digest, making them a vital part of the desert ecosystem.

However, despite the fact that camels can eat thorny and tough vegetation, they do not derive all of their required nutrients from it. They occasionally supplement their diet by consuming the flesh of wild animals, such as rodents, lizards, and even small birds.

Interestingly, camels have adapted to eat toxic plants that would be fatal to other animals. They have the ability to metabolize toxins that would otherwise make other animals sick or possibly kill them. This is a critical adaptation for survival in deserts where much of the vegetation is poisonous.

The diets of wild camels living in the desert vary greatly from the diets of domesticated camels or wild camels in other habitats. The ability to eat a variety of tough vegetation and occasionally supplementing diet with animal flesh and the ability to metabolize toxins are some of the unique features that help camels survive in the desert. To learn more about how camels have adapted for survival in the desert, check out the article on domestic vs wild camels’ desert adaptations.

How Do Camels Adapt to Eating in the Desert?

The harsh, arid conditions of the desert pose many challenges for animals trying to survive. Despite this, camels have evolved a set of unique features and adaptations that allow them to thrive in this environment. These adaptations are especially apparent in how camels are able to eat, as obtaining enough food in the desert can be a difficult task. Let’s explore the different ways in which camels have adapted to eating in the desert, including their humps, mouth, and ability to withstand long periods without water. To understand further how camels have developed such useful adaptations and unique behaviors, check out our article on unique camel behaviors in the desert or read more about their distinctive physical features, such as their bushy eyebrows, in our article on camel eyelashes and eyebrows.

Camel’s Hump Helps with Food Storage

One of the most fascinating adaptations of camels to the desert environment is the ability of their humps to store fat, which they can then use to survive when food is scarce. Camels possess one or two humps on their backs, and these humps consist mostly of fat tissue.

The storage of fat in humps serves two important purposes for camels. Firstly, it provides them with energy reserves that they can use when food is not available. Secondly, the fat stored in the humps does not insulate the body like other forms of fat. This means that camels can stay cooler in hot desert temperatures.

The weight of a camel’s hump can range from 50 to 100 pounds, depending on the animal’s age and the availability of food. When food is plentiful, the hump appears full and firm. When food is scarce, the hump will decrease in size and become droopy.

The fat stored in the humps is not just any ordinary fat. It is a special kind of fat called “brown fat,” which contains more mitochondria than white fat. Mitochondria are responsible for producing energy, so having more of them means that the stored fat can be quickly converted into energy for the camel to use.

In addition to storing fat, a camel’s hump also helps distribute weight evenly across the animal’s body. This is important for camels as they can carry heavy loads over long distances.

To summarize, the camel’s hump is an amazing adaptation that allows camels to survive in the harsh desert environment. It serves as a store of energy-rich brown fat, helps regulate body temperature, and distributes weight evenly across the animal’s body.

Camel’s Mouth is Adapted to Eating Tough Vegetation

The camel’s mouth is designed to eat tough vegetation found in the desert. The most distinctive adaptation is their tough, leathery lips that prevent thorns and prickly plants from hurting them. Additionally, their mouth has a split upper lip that allows them to selectively pick the vegetation they wish to consume.

Camels have a thick and muscular tongue that can manipulate food in their mouth to allow for effective chewing. These adaptations, along with the ability to regurgitate food and re-chew it, help them extract as much nutrients as possible from their food.

Finally, camels have a unique dental formula that allows them to effectively chew tough vegetation. Their upper front teeth are reduced to small, peg-like incisors, while their lower front teeth are inclined forward and are also used for grasping food. Their molars have a high crown and a complex structure that helps them grind down tough plant material.

All of these adaptations make the camel’s mouth perfectly suited for consuming the tough desert vegetation that they rely on for survival.

Adaptation Description
Tough, leathery lips Protects against thorns and prickly plants
Split upper lip Allows selective picking of vegetation
Thick and muscular tongue Manipulates food for effective chewing
Regurgitation and re-chewing Extracts maximum nutrients from food
Unique dental formula Effective chewing of tough plant material

Camel’s Ability to Go Without Water for Long Periods of Time

One of the most remarkable adaptations of camels is their ability to survive without water for extended periods of time, making them well-suited to life in the desert. This exceptional ability is due to several unique features that camels possess.

Large Water-Storing Capacity: Camels have a large water-storing capacity in their bodies that enables them to go for long periods without drinking. They can drink up to 40 gallons of water at once and can survive up to several months without any source of water.

Efficient Use of Water: Camels have evolved to be efficient in their use of water, losing less fluid through sweating and breathing. They also have the ability to raise their body temperature by up to 6 degrees Celsius, reducing the amount of water lost through breathing.

Specialized Kidneys: Camels have larger kidneys than other mammals, which helps them to retain water and excrete concentrated urine effectively.

To further illustrate the amazing adaptation of camels to living in the desert, the following table summarizes the water storage capacity and survival time for some other animals:

Animal Water Storage Capacity Survival Time Without Water
Camel Up to 40 gallons Several months
Kangaroo Rat Nocturnal habits reduce water loss Several days
Desert Tortoise Stored in bladder and can drink up to 40% of its body weight Up to a year
Thorny Devil Lizard Drinks water through skin Several weeks

As the table shows, camels are well-adapted to their environment and have a much greater capacity for surviving without water than other desert animals.

Types of Food Camels Eat

Types Of Food Camels Eat
When it comes to the diet of camels, many people assume that they only eat desert vegetation. However, these resilient animals are actually able to consume a variety of foods to help them survive and thrive in even the harshest of environments. From plants to animals, camels have a unique ability to find and digest different types of food. Let’s take a closer look at some of the food sources that camels rely on for their survival in the desert.

Plant-based Sources of Food

Camels are known to feed on various plants in the wild. Some of the plants they consume include:

  • Trees: Camels eat the leaves and fruits of trees such as acacia, tamarisk, and date palms. Acacia trees are a favorite among camels because they are rich in protein and have small thorns that help eradicate parasites from their mouths.
  • Shrubs: Camels have a high tolerance for thorny plants and can consume shrubs such as saltbush, wormwood, and spiny amaranth. These plants have a low water content, which makes them an ideal food source for camels in arid regions.
  • Grasses: Camels also graze on grasses, especially during the rainy season when they are readily available. They eat both the leaves and stems of grasses such as Panicum turgidum and Pennisetum divisum.
  • Cactus: In addition to other plants, camels can eat cactus plants such as prickly pear and barrel cactus. The cactus pads and fruits are a good source of water for the camels, which is essential for their survival in the desert.

It is worth noting that although these plants are the main sources of food for camels in the wild, they also have a remarkable ability to go without food for long periods, especially when water is scarce. Camels can survive for several weeks without food by living off their fat reserves, which are stored in their humps. However, when food is available, camels can consume up to 20% of their body weight in a single day to replenish their energy reserves.

Animal-based Sources of Food

Camels are known to be omnivorous, which means that they eat both plants and animals. As herbivores, plants make up a significant portion of their diet, but they also prey on other animals as well.

One of the animal-based sources of food that camels eat are insects. Insects provide the necessary protein that camels need to survive, especially during lean periods. They eat insects such as beetles, flies, and ants.

Another animal-based source of food for camels is small rodents such as mice and rabbits. Camels are known to stalk and hunt these small mammals for food. They use their strong, sharp teeth and powerful jaws to crush the bones and devour the flesh of their prey.

In addition to insects and small mammals, camels also feed on birds and reptiles. They have been observed preying on lizards, snakes, and even birds such as seagulls and ostriches.

Camels have unique adaptations that allow them to efficiently capture and consume animal-based food sources. Their long necks and legs help them to spot and chase after their prey, while their powerful jaws and teeth allow them to kill and consume them.

However, it’s important to note that while camels do consume animal-based sources of food, they primarily rely on plant-based sources of food to survive, especially in harsh desert environments.

Camel’s Ability to Eat Toxic Plants

Camels have the remarkable ability to eat plants that are toxic to most other animals. This is due to special adaptations in their digestive system that allow them to break down and detoxify these plants. Some of the toxic plants that camels are able to consume without harm include:

Plant Name Toxins
Haloxylon Salt-loving plant that is able to accumulate high levels of salt in its tissues, which can be toxic to other animals
Calotropis procera Contains cardiac glycosides, which are toxic to most other animals
Nerium oleander Contains cardiac glycosides and other toxic compounds
Acacia Contains high levels of tannins and other anti-nutrients that are toxic to other animals

Camels are able to consume these toxic plants without harm due to their unique digestive system. The walls of their stomachs are lined with a thick mucous that protects their digestive tract from the toxic compounds. Their liver has the ability to break down and detoxify these compounds before they can cause harm.

This ability to consume toxic plants is a valuable adaptation for camels living in the desert, where food sources can be scarce and unpredictable. It allows them to forage for food in areas where other animals would not be able to survive. However, it is important to note that even though camels can consume these toxic plants without harm, they should not be used as a food source for humans or other animals.

Camels as Domesticated Animals

Throughout history, camels have been domesticated and served as an essential resource for human populations, particularly those living in desert regions. It’s fascinating how these animals have become a part of daily life in these regions, providing milk, meat, and transportation. Their ability to withstand harsh environmental conditions and ability to thrive on limited resources has made them an invaluable asset. Let’s dive deeper into the role camels play as domesticated animals.

Camels as a Source of Milk and Meat

Camels are not only valued for their ability to survive in harsh desert environments, but also for their usefulness as a source of sustenance for humans. In many cultures, camels provide milk and meat for consumption.

Milk: Camel milk is a valuable source of nutrition for people living in desert regions. It is particularly rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, and is often considered a healthier alternative to cow’s milk. Unlike cow’s milk, camel milk contains a type of insulin that may be beneficial for people with diabetes. Additionally, camel milk can be used to produce other dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt.

Meat: The meat from camels is referred to as camel meat or camel beef, and is consumed in many parts of the world. It is a lean meat that is low in fat and cholesterol, making it a healthier option than many other types of meat. Camel meat can be used in a variety of dishes, such as stews, kebabs, and meatballs.

In addition to their value as a source of food, camels are also important to many desert communities for transportation and labor. They are strong, hardy animals that can carry heavy loads for long distances, making them ideal for use as pack animals. In some cultures, camels are also used in racing and other traditional sports.

Camels play a significant role in the lives of many people living in desert regions, not only as a source of survival, but also as a cultural symbol of resilience and strength.

Camels as Working Animals in Desert Regions

Camels have been used as working animals in desert regions for thousands of years. Their ability to thrive in hot and arid environments makes them ideal for transportation of people and goods across vast stretches of desert terrain. In fact, many desert communities have relied on camels as a primary mode of transportation and trade.

Here are some ways in which camels are used as working animals in desert regions:

  • Caravan transportation: One of the primary uses of camels in desert regions is to transport goods and people across the desert. Camels are able to carry heavy loads for long distances with little need for sustenance or water. They are able to travel over rough terrain and can navigate through sand dunes and rocky hills with ease.
  • Herding: In some desert regions, camels are used for herding other animals such as sheep and goats. The camels are able to navigate through the rough terrain and harsh climate to help move the herds to new grazing areas.
  • Military uses: Historically, camels have been used in desert regions for military purposes. They have been used to transport soldiers, equipment and supplies across the desert. Their ability to travel for long periods without water has made them valuable in military operations where water sources may be scarce.
  • Tourism: In some desert regions, camel rides or treks have become popular among tourists. Camels are used to carry tourists across the desert to visit different sites or to experience a camel ride as an attraction.

Camels are highly valued for their ability to work in harsh desert conditions. Their unique physiology, which enables them to go for long periods without water or food, makes them ideal for use in regions where other animals would struggle to survive. Camels have played an important role in the development of many desert communities and continue to be a valuable resource in these regions today.


After delving into the topic of what camels eat to survive in the desert, it’s clear that these animals are uniquely adapted to thrive in extremely harsh and dry environments. Their natural diet consists mainly of tough vegetation and occasional animal-based sources of food. They have evolved many adaptations such as their hump, mouth structure, and ability to go without water for long periods of time to help them find and digest food in the desert.

Camels’ ability to eat toxic plants is also an interesting feature that helps them survive in their natural habitat. However, it’s important to note that just because camels can eat certain types of poisonous plants doesn’t mean they should be used as a means to control them.

Moreover, it’s fascinating to see how camels have been domesticated and have become an integral part of human life in desert regions. They are not only a source of milk and meat but also serve as working animals, carrying heavy loads across the desert terrain.

In conclusion, camels are truly remarkable creatures that have evolved many unique adaptations to survive in the desert. Their natural diet mainly consists of plant-based sources of food, but they are also able to consume animal-based sources of food and even toxic plants. Their amazing adaptations and domestication are just some of the factors that make camels an important and fascinating part of the world we live in.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the average lifespan of a camel?

Camels can live up to 50 years in captivity and up to 40 years in the wild.

Are all types of camels able to survive in the desert?

Camels that are native to the desert regions of Africa and Asia are well adapted to survive in the harsh environment, whereas domesticated camels might struggle to survive without human intervention.

How much water can a camel drink in one day?

A camel can drink up to 30 gallons of water in just 13 minutes.

Do camels really store water in their humps?

Contrary to popular belief, camels do not store water in their humps. They store fat in their humps, which they can metabolize into water and energy when necessary.

Can camels eat cactus?

Yes, camels can eat cactus, as well as other tough, thorny desert plants like thorn bushes and saltbushes.

What is the nutritional value of camel milk?

Camel milk is high in protein, vitamin C, iron, and calcium. It is also lower in fat and lactose than cow’s milk.

Do camels have any natural predators?

Camels are not typically hunted by other animals due to their size, speed, and strength. However, they can fall prey to wolves, lions, and other large predators.

How fast can a camel run?

A camel can run up to 40 miles per hour, but they generally prefer to walk or trot.

Can camels eat meat?

Camels are herbivores, but they have been known to eat small amounts of meat on occasion. It is not a regular part of their diet.

What is the gestation period for a camel?

The gestation period for a camel is about 13 months, and they typically give birth to one calf at a time.