Similar to how other herbivores eat, a camel will first use its lips to grab plants, then nibble, chew, manipulate with tongue, swallow. After that, it will regurgitate that food for even more chewing. This process is called chewing the cud.
Camels are members of the pseudo-ruminant family. They have a multichambered stomach structure that stores, breaks down, and digests food.
Compared to regular ruminants (for example a cow) that have a four-chambered stomach, a camel has a three-chambered one.
Now that we answered “how do camels eat” in simple terms, let’s look deeper at the individual parts of the eating process.
How Do Camels Eat?
1. Grabbing The Plant – Grazing Or Browsing
Camels are animals that both graze and browse. Using their lips, they will grab and graze on vegetation that is closer to the ground (e.g. grass), or browse on leaves, branches, and twigs that are higher on shrubs and trees.
They will browse and graze on vegetation that is inaccessible or not very tasty to other animals.
What allows them to do so are their flexible, split prehensile lips. They help the animal to get closer to the grass down, or leaves up, grab them, and then chew with their teeth.
Camels prefer to browse on trees compared to grazing. They will mostly eat leaves on trees, shrubs, herbs, and forbs that are high in moisture and mineral contents.
They will mostly eat grass after the rain and if there are no trees available to browse.
Besides grass, leaves, and branches, camels will also eat fruits, grains, wheat, and oats.
If they encounter a poisonous plant, camels will not eat it.
2. Chewing The Food
A camel will chew in a rotating, sort of a figure 8 pattern, to make the food nicely cut and moistured for easier digestion. They have a hard palate at top of their mouth, and their teeth will grind the food against it.
It is similar to how a mortar and pestle works.
Check this video of a camel chewing.
Warning: the music in the video is kind of annoying.
One interesting thing is that the camels can eat thorny plants like cactuses with relative ease. Some zoologists claim that they even enjoy it.
What allows them to eat it are their tough structures called papillae covering their mouth and tongue.
In combination with their tough teeth, the animal can eat the thorny plant with no big injuries to its mouth.
Further reading: Camel’s tongue
3. Digesting The Food
A camel’s stomach consists of 3 chambers. The food is partially digested and broken down in the first two chambers, and then brought up into the mouth for even more chewing.
Camel stomach chambers are:
The rumen is used in the churning process, for cellulose, and hemicellulose digestion, and also plays a major role in the fermentation of bacteria. The food first arrives here, it is stored and partially digested. The food that could not be digested is sent to the 2nd chamber.
The reticulum first takes and then temporarily stores larger food particles. From there, food is regurgitated back to the mouth for even more chewing. The saliva helps to further break down the food as it is sent to the last part of the stomach.
Abomasum, similarly to the human stomach, is used for protein digestion. It is the last station for digestion before the food leaves the stomach and goes into the small intestine.
As previously mentioned, camels are herbivores. However, an interesting phenomenon can be found when there is no plant-based food available for camels.
In case of a famine or a drought, a camel will resort to eating animal meat.
The only problem for camel here is that its stomach is not able to digest meat properly and extract all the nutrients the animal needs.
How Often Do Camels Eat?
Camels will eat constantly throughout the day, whether browsing on fresh vegetation or regurgitating and chewing cud from their stomach. They eat 11-22 lbs (5-10 kg) of dry matter a day or about 22-44 lbs (10–20 kg) of fresh pasture with 80 percent water content. In captivity, they are fed in the morning and the afternoon.
If a camel is pregnant, that food amount needs to be increased to accommodate the developing calf, as poor nutrition can lead to a decrease in milk production and the death of the calf.
Wild camels also prefer plants high in salt. So if the animal is in captivity, salt licks need to be provided to it.
Further reading: Why camels eat snakes
How Do Camels Find Food To Eat?
A camel will simply walk from one tree to the other to find food in the wild. It is estimated that a camel can cross 18 and 25 miles (30-40 km) a day to get to the food and feel full. They can browse between 40 to 60 trees a day.
What is interesting is that one research done in Alice Springs showed that within a 124 miles (200km) radius, camels will eat up to 82% of the available plants there.
Obviously, camels are not picky eaters.
Camels are herbivores that prefer a plant-based diet. They will grab their food with their lips, then grind it with their teeth and then swallow it. If the animal can’t digest the food, it will regurgitate it for further chewing.
Their hard mouths, tongues, and teeth even allow the camels to eat thorny plants like cactuses.
Further reading: 7 amazing facts about camel teeth
By moving from one tree to the other, a camel will browse on different leaves, branches, and twigs.
We hope you found this article informative and that we managed to properly answer the question “how do camels eat“.