Camel’s nostrils are one of the most unique organs in the whole mammalian world.
Just imagine trying to breathe in an endless field of dry sand, with temperatures up to 50°C (130°F), and nowhere to hide from that blazing hot sun.
Or even worse, imagine doing that in a sandstorm, with the sharp wind blowing dirt and sand into your face.
And yet, camels manage to respire in such harsh environments, with no problem, it seems.
But how have camels evolved to be able to do it? And how do their nostrils help with it?
Camels Have Stretchy Nostrils
First, we need to look at the anatomy of the camel’s nostrils and its nasal passages.
It is estimated that the nasal surface area of camels is over 1 square foot large (1000 cm2 ).
This surface area allows for a camel to breathe and even to conserve water.
Camel’s nose is usually fixed and rigid during its lifetime.
Camel’s nostrils have an interesting anatomic structure: they have several muscles that allow the animal to open and close the nostrils at will.
These muscles are similar to proboscis-bearing animals.
The proboscis is a muscular nose that can be closed with the help of the maxillolabial group of muscles.
The maxillolabial group of muscles that help the camel close its nostrils are:
- m. levator labii maxillaris
- m. caninus
- m. depressor labii maxillaris
All of the narial muscles of a camel are united at their insertions, which allows them to work together and close the nostril.
When it comes to bones in camel nostrils, the bones around the nasal opening are very short.
Such bone structure in combination with mobile nasal muscles, allow camels to have nostrils that can open and close.
Camel’s nostrils are all part of a more complex, camel respiratory system.
Why Do Camels Have Nostrils That Open And Close
Believe it or not, but camels are the only domesticated animals that can close their nostrils. Their slit-like nostrils can close and open to stop sand and dirt enter their nose during the dust storms.
It is a similar situation with both the camel’s eyes and camel’s ears. In dusty circumstances, a camel will close them along with its nostrils.
Further reading: 10 Interesting Camel Eyes Facts
Their nostrils also contain lots of hairs that stops sand from entering their body.
Camel’s Nostrils – A Way Of Conserving Water
Another reason why camels have good use of their special nostrils is to help them with conserving water expenditure and cooling down.
Camel’s nostrils help save water by cooling the exhaled air and by removing water vapor from that exhaled air.
During the night, the temperature outside is much lower than the temperature of a camel’s body.
So when the camel inhales, that cold outside air passes through the hot nasal passages of a camel. As a result, these passages are being cooled by the air and the air is getting warmed by the passages, going into the camel’s lungs after that.
When a camel afterward exhales, that warm air from the lungs goes back through those cooled nasal passages, gets colder, and as a result, water vapor condenses into water.
This helps a camel save water during the night.
Their upper lip helps with this, as it absorbs that moisture from the nostrils.
During the day, the same system is not focused on saving water, but on helping a camel’s brain cool and prevent overheating.
Another organ that helps with saving water is the camel’s kidney which has special morphological characteristics that allow the animal to save even more water by making highly concentrated camel urine.
How Do Camels Breathe When They Close Their Nostrils?
So we have explained how a camel keeps desert sand out of its nose.
But if the camel’s nostrils are closed during a storm, how does the camel breathe then?
The answer is quite simple: During a sandstorm, camels breathe through their thick big lips, with the upper lip being split in two. That prevents sand from getting into their lungs.
Camel nostrils and their nasal passages are unique in the animal world. Camelids are the only animals whose nostrils can open and close to prevent dust from entering their body.
But not only that, but their nasal passages allow the camels to save water during hot sunny days where water is not available, in addition to cooling the brain.
A groove called philtrum sends the water from nasal passages to the camel’s flexible lips.