How Do Camels Cool Down? (12 Brilliant Tactics!)

Imagine the situation: you’re sitting on a beach, under your umbrella. 

Suddenly, you feel extremely hot. You put on a hat, order a margarita, and go into the water to cool down. 

By the time you’re out, the bartender has made your drink and left it at your table.

There’s a fresh lime in the glass and a few droplets falling down the cocktail. You take a sip of it and relax in the shade until the sun goes down. Speaking of an easy life!

Now imagine a different situation. 

You are in a desert. The temperature of the surrounding air is 117 °F (47 °C); the temperature of the sand is 40 °F (40 °C) higher. There is no shade to hide under, you have no hat, there is no water to get in and cool down, there is no margarita to refresh you. Not so great, is it?

This is what a typical summer day for a camel looks like.

It is easy to wonder: how do camels cool down?!

Although heat and drought strongly reduce animal productivity, health, and fertility, camels have developed unique physiological adaptations to cope with such stress. 

In this article, we will show you 12 brilliant tactics camels use to keep their cool on the hottest of days.

how do camels cool down

How Do Camels Cool Down?

1. They Face The Sun

This might seem counterproductive, but camels will turn their face towards the sun when lying down as it exposes a smaller portion of their body to the heat. 

This way, the body gathers less of it, does not warm up as fast, and the camel sweats less.

2. Their Size Helps Them Warm Up Slower

Camels are colossal beasts. The Arabian (Dromedary) camel can stand over 6.5 ft (2 m) at the shoulder and weigh 880-1500+ lbs (400-700 kg).  

Such a large body mass will heat much slower than a smaller mass when exposed to the blistering sun.

Camel’s large hump(s) gives the camel a large skin surface in relation to its body mass, which is a helpful feature with heat regulation. 

3. Thick Fur Prevents Sun Rays From Reaching The Skin

Camels are covered in thick fur. Their coat can reach a length of up to 14.9 inches (37.5cm).

During extremely hot months, this fur can get a lighter color (to reflect the sun rays away from the skin), insulate the animal from outside warmth, and reduce the amount of heat transferred to the camel’s body.

Because it is so coarse, the fur prevents the movement of air, which reduces heat transfer to the skin. As a result, the amount of water required to cool the body down is significantly reduced.

During summer, a camel might shed some of its coat. And tests have shown that a camel with shorter wool will lose 50% more moisture than a regular-length one.

camel fur in winter and in summer
Camel with a longer and a shorter fur

4. Camels Might Huddle Together

Camels will usually huddle together to cool themselves, as their body temperature is often less than that of the surrounding air. 

Groups of them will nestle together and reduce the total surface area that is exposed to the incoming solar radiation, grouping even under a small shade. [1]

5. Camels Stay In Shaded Areas 

A study investigating camel response to heat discovered that dromedary camels have a strong preference for staying in the shade when the temperatures are above 104°F (40 °C). The scientists observed that camels in the shaded areas rested and ruminated for longer periods. 

The study also showed that camels were so determined to get in the shade, that in smaller pens, they would stick together in extremely crowded conditions.

When there was not enough place for all camels under the shelter, some individual animals would cuddle around the shaded area in recumbency, with their back and the hump resting in shade and the other body parts in the sun.

This might suggest that the hump and hips play a role in heat dissipation and that these camels were trying to thermoregulate their body temperature this way.

Similar to camels, horses also prefer to walk and eat in shaded areas. When kept in the sun, horses ate and moved less, drank more water, and spent more time close to a water point. [2

Further reading: How Intelligent are camels compared to horses?

It is important to note that higher temperatures and high levels of humidity put camels at risk of a heat stroke. And when they die in the desert like that, camels can pose a serious threat.

6. They Raise Their Body Temperature

To sweat less, cool down, and conserve water, a camel can fluctuate its daily body temperature. 

During the extremely hot part of the day, a camel will raise its body temperature up to 105°F (40.7°C). During the night, when the temperature is colder, that temperature can fall to around 93°F (34°C). 

This 43°F (6.2 °C) difference in temperature allows the camel weighing 1100 lbs (500 kg) to save about 2500 kcal, which is around 5 liters of water (sweat) a day.

This process where an animal self-regulates its body temperature under the effect of the environment is called “adaptive heterothermy” and it was discovered in the dromedary camel over 50 years ago. [3

Another study discovered that male camels in heat will start their day at a lower body temperature. Since camel courtship games include showcasing water expenditure (by foaming, urinating, etc.), this reduced body temperature will allow them to last longer in this mating display, increase their chances of beating other males, and winning the chance to mate with females.

This hypothermia was first considered to be a water-saving mechanism under extreme conditions, but it turned out it can be useful for other things as well. [4]

7. Camels Will Sweat

It was long considered that camels did not sweat. Later, it was discovered that camels have sweat glands in all areas of the body except in the skin of the upper lip, external nares (nostrils), and perianal region. [5

Camels store their heat during the day and dissipate it during the night. Once their body temperature exceeds 104°F (40 °C), camels will begin to sweat.

Camels have around 200 sweat glands per 0.15 square inches (1 cm2) on the body, which is a similar amount found in humans. 

And, similar to humans, water removes body heat from sweat glands through evaporation in camels. Vaporization of 1g of water removes about 0.6 kcal of heat. [6]

In camels, the sweat evaporates directly from the skin surface, which saves more energy and cools the skin more effectively. 

When exposed to high temperatures, a camel will increase its respiratory rate from between 6 and 11 to between 8 and 18 breaths per minute. The camel will breathe slowly, with no panting.

A cow, for example, will have a respiration rate of over 120 breaths per minute when it is under severe heat stress. 

This raise in respiration rate in camels does not significantly increase evaporation or loss of water (compared to, for example, a cow, or the panting of a dog). 

8. Camels Reduce Their Metabolic Rate

A metabolic rate is the amount of energy your body spends to accomplish its most basic life-sustaining functions.

In mammals, metabolic activity is sensitive to temperature fluctuation. The higher the outside temperature, the higher the metabolic rate will be (and with it, the body temperature).

When camels get exposed to extreme temperatures and dehydration, they will reduce their metabolic rate

Scientists discovered that at 116.6 degrees F (47°C), dehydrated camels had a lower metabolic rate than hydrated ones. In fact, the dehydrated ones would simply sit down and sleep peacefully in such heat. 

In extreme conditions, where no water is available, camels will inhibit the production of thyroxine (a hormone that controls how much energy your body uses). This leads to a decreased amount of pulmonary water loss and reduced metabolism, and as a result, helps the camel stay hydrated and cool down better. [7]

9. Veins And Arteries Prevent The Brain From Overheating

Different venous and nasal cooling systems protect the camel’s brain from heat, reduce the high blood temperature of the body going to the brain, and protect the animal from overheating and potential brain damage. 

This mechanism is referred to as “selective brain cooling”.

Camels have unique nose and nasal passages. During sandstorms, camels can close them, and prevent sand from getting inside. 

This huge nasal surface of the camel absorbs the vapor during respiration and cools a network of blood vessels called the “carotid rate”. This blood cooled in the nasal cavity is diverted to the brain sinuses through the nasal and angular veins.

On its way to the brain, arterial blood passes over the carotid rete and gets cooled by the venous blood that is returning from the evaporating surface of the nasal cavity. 

This is known as the “counter current” effect and the temperature of the blood reaching the brain is reduced by over 39.2°F (4 ºC). [8]

This helps the camel cool the brain down and maintain a stable brain temperature that is essential for survival. 

10. Their Leathery Chest Callus Keeps Them Above The Hot Sand

Camels will spend most of their day eating and moving in search of food. When they get tired, they will lay down to rest. 

Remember that 40°F (40°C) higher temperature of the sand we mentioned at the beginning?

To keep them cool and prevent the hot sand from reaching their bodies and increasing the temperature, dromedary camels have a thick callus tissue over their sternum.

This tissue is called the pedestal, and when the animal lies down on the ground, the pedestal will raise the body from the hot surface, prevent it from burning, and allow cooling air to pass underneath.

Camels also have similar heat-resistant pads on their knees and elbows.

11. Long Legs And Padded Feet Keep The Body Away From The Ground

To keep their bodies away from the sand, camels have also developed elongated front and back limbs.

The back legs are longer than the front ones; 54-59 inches (138-151cm) vs 57-63.7 inches (145-162 cm).

At the bottom of those legs are two digits, webbing between them, and wide thick pads to walk easily on the sand, not get burned by it, and save water and energy while moving.

12. Camels Will Pee On Themselves

To cool down, camels will lower their tails between their back legs and divert the urine onto their legs.

If you ever saw a camel with dark spots on its back legs, that is hardened urine used to cool the animal down.

TL;DR – How Do Camels Cool Themselves Down?

Camels have multiple ways of cooling down. They will huddle together to reduce heat exposure, grow thick fur to prevent the sun from reaching the skin, fluctuate their body temperature, sweat, and keep their brain cool via selective cooling. This will save water and help the animals stay cool, and survive intense heat.

This concludes our article on how camels cool themselves down. 

Some people think that camels spit out their stomachs and hearts to cool themselves down, which is not the case. Read what’s really going on by clicking HERE.


References

[1] Wilson, Richard T. Ecophysiology of the Camelidae and desert ruminants. Springer Science & Business Media, 2012.

[2] Zappaterra, Martina, et al. “Do Camels (Camelus dromedarius) Need Shaded Areas? A Case Study of the Camel Market in Doha.” Animals 11.2 (2021): 480.

[3] Bouâouda, Hanan, et al. “Daily regulation of body temperature rhythm in the camel (C amelus dromedarius) exposed to experimental desert conditions.” Physiological Reports 2.9 (2014): e12151.

[4] Grigg, Gordon, et al. “Strategic (adaptive) hypothermia in bull dromedary camels during rut; could it increase reproductive success?.” Biology letters 5.6 (2009): 853-856.

[5] Gbolagunte, G. D. “Reclassification of the sweat glands of the one-humped camel (Camelus dromedarius) as apoeccrine based on mode of secretion and extrusion.” Am. J. Res. Commun. 4.5 (2016): 151-170.

[6] MR, Fath El-Bab, A. S. Abou-Elhamd, and M. Abd-Elkareem. “How the structure of the sweat glands of camel symphonizes their reliable function.” J. Anim. Health Prod 5.1 (2017): 19-23.

[7] Bornstein, S. “The ship of the desert. The dromedary camel (Camelus dromedarius), a domesticated animal species well adapted to extreme conditions of aridness and heat.” Rangifer (1990): 231-236.

[8] Ouajd, Souilem, and Barhoumi Kamel. “Physiological particularities of dromedary (Camelus dromedarius) and experimental implications.” Scandinavian Journal of Laboratory Animal Sciences 36.1 (2009): 19-29.

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