Skip to Content

Camel Dulla (Description, Function, Anatomy)

If you ever saw a camel during the winter months, most likely it had some organ hanging down its mouth. 

You might have thought it was an inflated tongue, a heart, or even a stomach camel regurgitated to cool down. It’s none of those.

The inflated organ coming out of the camel’s mouth is called a dulla.

In this article, we will define and describe dulla, show dulla anatomy, and explain its function.

camel dulla

What Is Camel Dulla? 

Camel dulla (dulaa or gulaa) is an inflatable pink sac hanging from a side of the camel’s mouth, usually seen in male dromedary camels.

Dulla is a palatine diverticulum on the lower part of the soft palate in a camel’s mouth that can be stretched and expanded.

Male dromedary camel extruding his

Figure: Male dromedary camel extruding his “dulaa” after mating. | Source: Researchgate.org

Dulla is derived from the Arabic verb dala‘a which means “to stick out one’s tongue”, so the technically correct name for this organ would be “dul‘a”.

Both male and female camels have it; although it is more developed in adult males.

Bactrian camels do not have a dulla, only dromedary ones do.

No other animal has such an inflatable sac, not even the camel’s close relatives, llamas and alpacas. [0

The camel’s dulla has an average length of 6.3 in (16 cm); some claim that it can reach almost 10 inches (25 cm).

Camel Dulla Anatomy 

The dulla of a camel is attached to the soft palate, the soft tissue located in the back part of the mouth. It is free on its other end. The free part lays close to the root of the tongue.

Ventro-lateral view of the soft palate diverticulum of an adult male camel. (1) Root of the tongue; (2) Front edge of the soft palate; (3) Lateral fold the diverticulum; (4) Ventral surface of the diverticulum showing a pleated aspect; (5) Caudal edge of the diverticulum; (6) Lateral edge of the diverticulum; (7) Dorsal surface of the diverticulum; (8) Palatine tonsil; (9) Lateral wall of the oro-pharynx; (10) Oral side of the soft palate.

Figure: Ventro-lateral view of the soft palate diverticulum of an adult male camel. (1) Root of the tongue; (2) Front edge of the soft palate; (3) Lateral fold the diverticulum; (4) Ventral surface of the diverticulum showing a pleated aspect; (5) Caudal edge of the diverticulum; (6) Lateral edge of the diverticulum; (7) Dorsal surface of the diverticulum; (8) Palatine tonsil; (9) Lateral wall of the oro-pharynx; (10) Oral side of the soft palate.  | Source: Researchgate.net

The dulla consists of two equal chambers that are separated.

It is covered with a keratinized squamous epithelium and has a well-developed papillary body. The connective tissue is very dense and has important lymphocytic infiltrations. The dulla has several lymphoid nodules, mostly located on the front part of the organ. [1]

When dulla is not distended (blown out), it has a highly folded surface, at least in male camels. Adult females and young males have a rather collapsed and less folded dulla. [2

The dull has a pale pink color; sometimes, different parts of it will have a grey color.

How Does A Camel Blow Its Dulla?

When a camel breathes in, the muscles of the tongue retract the dulla towards the back of the mouth. 

When a camel breathes out, it will close its nostrils and force the air from the lungs into the oral pharynx.

The air has to pass through a small chamber formed by the dulla, anterior pillars, and the upper part of the surface of the tongue. This high pressure pushes both the tongue and the dulla and inflates this soft palate. The dulla is spat out of the mouth as a result.

When the camel is done projecting the organ outside, it will reduce the pressure, collapse the dulla, and get it back to its original position.

For some unknown reasons, the inflated dulaa can be mostly seen on the right part of the camel’s head.

Dulla will start forming around the 3rd month in camel embryos. [3]

Camel Dulla Function And Purpose

Camel’s dulla serves a double function, to assert superiority over other males and win over the female camels. It is a form of sexual behavior the male expresses during a rutting season.

A male camel will take out his dulla throughout the day, every 15 to 30 minutes.

Loud gurgling and grunting sounds, mouth frothing, poll gland secretion, and frequent urination usually accompany this behavior. If a female is present, the excited male will protrude his diverticulum more often. [4]

Robyn Davidson, an Australian writer, describes it and its smell as:

“Hideously repulsive pink, purple and green balloon, covered in slobber and smelling indescribably foul, that female camels perversely find attractive”  

Sexually active male camels become very aggressive and difficult to handle during mating season. 

Their long pinkish elongated structure protruding from the mouth and covered in froth should be taken as a warning red sign that the camel is very dangerous and that you should be careful.

The animal might chase a female or get into skirmishes with the other males (which happens often); this can lead to various injuries to the dulla. 

Did you know: During WW2, German troops had to eat camel poo to cure stomach problems (dysentery)? There was a catch tho: they had to eat it fresh from the source. Read more about that and dung’s other uses HERE.

Camel Dulla Injuries

There are two categories of injuries to the dulla: protrusion and entrapment. Protrusion happens when a camel damages its organ and cannot retract it to its original position in the mouth. Entrapment is when the dulla gets caught up on the camel’s sharp teeth and can’t function properly and be blown out.

A camel with a protruded dulaa doesn’t eat or drink, while a camel with entrapped dulaa can drink but can not eat.

A huge percentage of injuries to the dulla happen during a mating season.

One study reported that out of 26 cases, 25 dulla injuries happened between November and March, which is when camels get into heat. Such injuries result in tears of mucosa and rupture of blood vessels of dulla.

Bruises, lacerations, and hematoma are often. Their teeth, other camels, branches of trees, and bits of food that end up in the dulla can lead to bleeding, inflammation, and swelling. If not treated properly, this can lead to gangrene and serious health consequences for a camel.

Camel owners trim their pet’s sharp teeth –  to decrease the chance of self-inflicting injuries to the dulla, but also to the dulaas of other camels.

Sometimes, such wounds might require surgery and even removal of the organ. 

Often, camel owners will remove the dullas of their camels on purpose, as it increases the maximum oxygen uptake at speed, which overall improves the camel’s performances during camel racing. 

One study comparing racing performances of camels with and without a dulla calculated that in a 5-mile run (8 km), male camels without a dulla improved their racing times by 20 seconds.

The surgical resection of the dulaa provided better air movements in the upper respiratory tract during demanding exercise. [5


Did you know: In camel racing, female camels are faster than males by around 20-30 seconds. Read more about camel racing by clicking HERE.


Camel Dulla Video

Here’s a video of a male camel spitting dulla out of his mouth to show dominance (similar to what peacocks do). Notice how this male has its dulaa protruded on the left side of his face.

Why Do Camels Spit Out Their Stomach?

A lot of people seem to think that the dulla they see on the side of a camel’s mouth is their stomach, heart, brain, or even intestines. And some would add that they spit out their “hearts” to cool down.

It’s easy to mistake it for a heart when looking at it from a specific angle. Obviously, none of that is the case here.

Final Thoughts On Dulla Of A Camel

Camel dulla (dulaa) is an inflatable pink sac protruding from the camel’s mouth and hanging on its side. This palatine diverticulum is used to show domination over other males and to win the chance to mate with the females during a breeding season. There can be many injuries to the dulla, some with serious health consequences to the animal.

Some might confuse the organ with a stomach that the camel spat out to cool down. That is not the case.


References

[0] Al-Sobayil, Fahd A., and Ahmed F. Ahmed. “Surgery of the injured dulla in dromedary camels (Camelus dromedarius).” Iranian Journal of Veterinary Surgery 6.1-2 (2011): 17-22.

[1] Achaaban, M. R., et al. “The camel soft palate diverticulum: structure and mechanism of its oral exteriorization.” 1st International Conference on Sustainability of Camel Population and Production, Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia. Vol. 18. 2013.

[2] Arnautović, I., and AM Abdel Magid. “Anatomy and mechanism of distension of the dulaa of the one-humped camel.” Cells Tissues Organs 88.1 (1974): 115-124.

[3] Morovati, Sharif Abad M., Et Al. “Development Of Soft Palate In Embryo Of One Humped Camel (Camelus Dromedaries).” (2011): 365-370.

[4] Nath, K., et al. “A comparative study on sexual and maternal behavior of Bactrian and dromedary camel.” Indian Journal of Animal Reproduction 37.2 (2016): 9-13.

[5] Kuhad, K. S., A. H. Tinson, and A. Rehman. “New technique for soft palatectomy in one-humped male racing camels.” Proceedings. Vol. 3. 1998.


Photo Sources:

Male camel behavior and breeding management strategies: How to handle a camel bull during the breeding season? – Scientific Figure on ResearchGate. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Male-dromedary-camel-extruding-his-dulaa-after-mating_fig2_275250659 [accessed 27 Dec, 2021]

THE CAMEL SOFT PALATE DIVERTICULUM: STRUCTURE AND MECHANISM OF ITS ORAL EXTERIORISATION – Scientific Figure on ResearchGate. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Ventro-lateral-view-of-the-soft-palate-diverticulum-of-an-adult-male-camel-1-Root-of_fig1_314761743 [accessed 27 Dec, 2021]

    Skip to content