How Do Camels Walk On Sand? (With Ease!)

Because of their long legs, broad and wide feet, split toes and webbing between them, and the padding underneath, camels can walk easily on the desert sand.

The grainy and always-shifting sand can be hard to walk on. Just remember walking on a beach for a longer period; it can be very hard and take a lot of energy. 

Now, imagine huge animals like camels doing it. They can weigh between 900 to 1,400 pounds (400 to 650 kg). And usually carry a load, sometimes 600-pound heavy one! No wonder people call them beasts of burden.

That is a lot of weight and a lot of pressure they place on the ground. Thanks to their feet they can walk in the desert, it seems, effortlessly. Here is how they do it.

how do camels walk on sand

How Do Camels Walk On Sand? 

First camels walked on hooves; that is not something that would make it easy to walk on the sand. Modern camels have a digitigrade stance. This means that the bones of the wrist, palm, ankle, and sole are raised from the ground and that camels walk or run by placing two of their digits on the ground.

Their two toes are not completely separated; they are joined underneath by a webbing. Towards the back of the leg, there are cushions of fat. These toes, the webbing between them, and the fat cushions form a camel’s large padded feet which enables them to walk on sand.

The padded feet are around 7.5 inches long and 5.5  inches wide (19 by 14 cm). Whenever a camel places a foot on the ground, its feet spread, increase the surface in contact with the ground, distribute its weight more evenly, and prevent the animal from sinking into the sand

The footpad acts like a snowshoe – the broad footpad supports the animal on loose sand just like a snowshoe helps a person walk on snow. 

A study on the locomotion of camels discovered that as the animal picks up the pace, the bottom of its feet will extend and increase even further the contact area with the ground. Because it is made of elastic fibers, the padded cushion can stretch during walking/running, and then return to its previous shape when the camel stops. This decreases the pressure the animal places on the ground, as well as the pressure on its muscles and skeleton from walking. [1]

Camels are also famous for their way of walking, the pacing gait. In a pacing gait, a camel will move the legs of the same side of the body forward, and then do the same with the legs of the other side of the body. This can make the animal unstable, as it will rock and shift weight from one side to the other while walking. 

A big advantage of this way of walking is that it gives camels a longer stride, allows them to walk faster, prevents legs from colliding with one another, and it requires a lot less energy. Less energy means less water spent – something that might be important for camels in the desert, don’t you think?

Sometimes it seems like a camel is floating effortlessly in the desert as a ship does at sea.

How Do Camels Walk On Hot Sand? 

Deserts are some of the hottest areas in the world. The temperature of the sand can be on average 30-40 °F (30-40 °C) higher than the temperature of the air. 

For example, in the Sahara, a sand temperature of 182.3 °F (83.5 °C) has been recorded in Port Sudan, a city in Sudan.[2]

The thick and leathery bottom of their feet prevents the camels’ legs from burning while walking on such scorching ground. 

When they decide to stop walking and rest, camels will get into a laying/kneeling position. They have thick calluses on their chest and joints of their 4 legs on which they rest. This allows the camels to withstand the heat of the desert sand underneath without burning.

Why Is It Easier For A Camel To Walk On Sand Than It Is To A Horse?

The reason why camels move easier than horses on desert sand is the pressure their feet place on the ground. The smaller the area, the bigger pressure it will exert on the ground.

Just remember how you best pop a balloon – with a tiny needle, not with your finger, right?

Horses have a feet size of around 5.5 inches in length and 5 inches in width (14 by 13cm), depending on the breed, of course. 

Compared to horses, camels have wider and broader feet, almost 2 inches wider (5 cm). This means that the camel will exert less pressure on the grainy sand and penetrate it a lot less than a horse would with its smaller feet. This allows the camel to move more easily in the desert than a horse.

Not to mention that the extremely hot temperatures during the day, and freezing conditions during the night do not suit the horses in the desert.

Read more: Camel shoes, do camels need them?

Final Thoughts

And there you have it, “how do camels walk on sand” explained in detail.

Because of their broad and padded feet, camels can walk easily on the sand. Their wide feet and their thick leathery bottom prevent the animal from burning while walking on the hot surface of the desert.

For hundreds of years, these animals have helped people of the Middle East and Africa cross the desert. That’s why these nomads hold camels in high regard.


References

[1] Clemente, Christofer J., et al. “Biomechanical insights into the role of foot pads during locomotion in camelid species.” Scientific reports 10.1 (2020): 1-12.

[2] Nicholson, Sharon E. (27 October 2011). Dryland Climatology. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-139-50024-1.

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