Camel Without A Hump (Does It Exist?)

There is an old and hilarious dad joke about camel’s humps that goes like this:

  • What do you call a camel with no humps?
  • Humphrey (hump-free)

Well, in this article we will investigate if our Humphrey camel is real, that is: are there camels without humps?

The answer might surprise you.

camel without hump

Camel Without A Hump

Camel without a hump exists and it is simply a calf. Camel calves are born without a clearly visible hump – as they grow up, they will develop one and store fat there. Also, in South America, there are four members of the camel family that have no humps. Camel hybridizations can sometimes result in a humpless camel.

The camel’s humps are limp at birth and mostly consist of skin and hair. They look like small hills of pelt with tufted hair on top. When the camel reaches about 6 months of age, its humps will become more defined and get filled with fat.

The camels we know today (Camelus) include one-humped dromedary and two-humped Bactrian camels. They are referred to as the Old World Camelids. They mostly live in the Middle East, Africa, China, Mongolia, and Australia.

Across the globe, in North America, live the New World Camelids. Llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos are all camelids without humps. These camelids, like Dromedaries and Bactrians, are all members of the Camelidae family. Guanaco and vicuña are wild while the llama and alpaca are domesticated. They are very valuable for their skin and wool.

The camels and llamas had a common ancestor around 17 million years ago.

Around 7 million years ago, that ancestor crossed the Beringian Bridge that connected North America and Asia and spread into Europe, Asia, And Africa. It paved the road for the development of the camels we know today.

Around 3 million years ago, some camel ancestors crossed the Isthmus of Panama and entered South America, giving rise to New World Camelids.

Sometimes, camel breeders or even scientists would mate different breeds of camels to get a hybrid. Usually, they do so because a resulting camel can be bigger, stronger, give more milk, or carry a heavier load. 

In 1999, as a result of breeding a male guanaco and a female dromedary camel, a camel with no humps was born. The calf called Rama had characteristics of both the guanaco and the camels. He had a woolly fiber coat and nose and nostrils like the Dromedary, but his ears and tail were midway in length between those of camels and guanacos.

His feet were something in between of the two-toed conjoined footpad of camels and the cloven hooves of guanacos. He urinated backward in a series of dribbles like the guanaco and the camels but defecated while moving which is what camels do. The camel hybrid Rama had no hump that would be present on a camel calf of his age. [1]

Further reading: Do camels with 3 humps really exist?

Did Camels Always Have Humps?

First camels did not have humps. They were rather small, the size of a hare or a sheep. Later, as they evolved and grew larger, around 14 million years ago, camels developed humps they are known for today.

Camels first appeared around 45 million years ago. They started small and as history went by, grew bigger, developed long necks, slender legs, wide padded feet, and in the Miocene epoch, around 14 million years ago, camels developed humps.

Camel scientists are convinced that the first camel that had a hump was Megatylopus, an 11.5 feet tall (3.5 m) beast. That fat tissue stored on its back allowed Megatylopus to cross great distances in pursuit of food, providing it with sustenance in areas where no food was available.

The hump remained a trait of modern camels (Camelus) that helped them thrive in areas where no other animal could.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it, a short article on a camel without a hump.

Camel without a hump exists. Camel calves are born with no visible hump, just with a small ball of wool on their back. As they grow up, they will develop one. Camelids of the Old World, llama, guanaco, vicuna, and alpaca, do not have humps. Also, some crossbreeds of camels can result in a humpless animal.


References

[1] Skidmore, J. A., et al. “Hybridizing old and new world camelids: Camelus dromedarius x Lama guanicoe.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences 266.1420 (1999): 649-656.

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