Can Camels Survive In The Cold?

Because of their unique characteristics, camels can easily survive in cold weather. Bactrian camels live in cold arid deserts where temperatures can fluctuate between 5°F and -22°F in winter (-15°C to -30°C). Even the scorching deserts where dromedary camels live can have night temperatures of 25°F (-4°C), according to NASA.

Bactrian camels live in parts of central Asia and western China, mostly in the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts of Mongolia and China.

The Gobi is a cold desert, with average winter temperatures of -6 °F (-21 °C). In the Taklamakan desert, winter lasts around 6 months and the temperatures fall below -4 °F (-20 °C).

Dromedary camels live in the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Australia. Some of the bigger deserts they live in are the Sahara desert, the Arabian desert, the Great Sandy Desert in Australia, etc.

During winter, the temperatures in the Sahara desert are around 55 °F (13 °C) but can occasionally go down to 36°F (-33 °C). In the Australian deserts, nighttime temperatures in winter rarely drop below 28 or 26°F (-2 or 3°C).

These are freezing conditions camels can withstand. Let’s dig deeper into how they do so.

can camels survive in the cold

How Can Camels Live In Cold Weather?

The Bactrian and the dromedary camel can grow thick fur to survive in the cold desert conditions, whether in winter or during cold desert nights. That fur may grow as long as 15 inches (40 cm), and up to 120 microns thick. As a comparison, human hair is around 50 and 70 microns thick.  

The thick, shaggy coat on their body works as an insulator and protects the animal. When the winter passes and warmer days come, a camel will shed its fur and become unrecognizable.

camel fur in winter and in summer
Camels in winter vs camels in the summer

Camels are well-adapted to dehydration for a relatively long period in harsh conditions and can go over 10 days without water. Camels can feed on available plants that provide enough moisture to sustain them without water for several weeks. And when they find a water source, camels can drink 30 gallons of water (135 l) in only 13 minutes.

Thanks to their humps, where they store fat tissue, camels can go several months without food and survive about 40% weight loss. This fat tissue can store up to 80 pounds of fat (35 kg), which a camel can break down into water and energy if needed. When the animal depletes too much of that fat, its humps will become visibly floppy and flabby, and bend to one side.

Camels can also save water by cooling exhaled air during the night and by extracting water vapor from that air

During the night, outside temperatures are typically lower than the camel’s core body temperature. When the camel inhales, the cold air passes through 155 square inches of the nasal surface area (1000 cm2) and exchanges heat with it. The nasal surfaces get cooled while the air gets warmed.

When the camel exhales, that warm air passes over the cool nasal surfaces and gets cooled down. As it cools, water vapor in the outgoing air condenses onto the nasal surfaces as liquid water. That water gets to the camel’s lips through nasal grooves. 

Sometimes, camels will resort to migration, to survive. During the snowy winter months, Bactrian camels can migrate to the Gobi desert steppe, a broad ecotone that borders many rivers. When the snow melts in the spring, Bactrian camels return to the desert. 

Sometimes, camel herders and their camels will migrate in pursuit of grazing and drinking water during cold months.

How Cold Is Too Cold For Camels?

Camels can withstand changes in the outside temperatures going down to -40 °F (-40 °C) during the winter months. Because of these extreme lows, it’s not unusual to see Bactrian camels covered in snow.

A camel can raise and decrease its body temperature to adapt to the outside conditions. A study from 2007 found that the body temperature, pulse, and breathing rate, are significantly lower during the cold season, compared to the hot season. [1

From November to February, the camel’s body temperature was on average 98.204°F (36.78 °C); from March to May, it was 99.14°F (37.3 C). The camel can increase/decrease its body temperature to reduce the heat gain/loss from the outside

During cold months, the camel had 46.58 beats/min, while the respiration rate was 13.6 breaths/min. In hot months, its pulse was 49.87 beats/min, and it had 15.94 breaths/min.

Can Camels Eat Snow?

Camels are among a few rare animals that regularly eat snow. During winter, when most of the water is trapped in ice, camels will chew and melt the snow to hydrate themselves. They are forced to eat only small amounts at a time, as eating too much of it at once can kill the animal.

For example, in the Goby desert, because the air is too cold and too dry, the snow never melts. The sun’s rays turn it straight into vapor. 

That forces camels to grab the snow with their long and flexible lips and chew it like it is grazing. However, they can only get 2.6 gallons of water from the snow a day (10 liters); higher doses might be fatal. Their bodies will use their heat to melt the snow; this can bring their internal temperature down quickly, and prove to be fatal.

Final Thoughts

This concludes our article examining “can camels live in the cold weather”. 

Because of their thick fur, excellent ability to conserve water, and regulate their body temperature according to outside conditions, camels can withstand the cold weather and do extremely well in the cold. If the water is scarce, they will resort to eating snow, and melt it into water. Camels can survive cold climates up to -40 °F (-40 °C).


References

[1] Mohammed, A. K., et al. “The effects of season, ambient temperature and sex on rectal temperature, pulse and respiratory rates for the adult one-humped camel (Camelus dromedarius) in Shika-Zaria, Nigeria.” Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances (2007).

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