Why Do Camels Smell So Bad? (Warning!)

Like all outdoor animals that spend their days in places with no water to wash, camels have a strong odor as well. 

Now, before we dive deeper into this article, a small warning: nothing aromatic awaits upfront. 

So take a deep breath, close your nose, and let’s answer the questions “what do camels smell like” and “why do camels smell so bad”.

why do camels smell so bad

What Do Camels Smell Like?

Simply put, camels stink. Hard. Some people describe it as indescribably foul, others as absolutely disgusting, while some say they smell similar to dogs.

Even Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, wrote about the camel’s repulsive smell. 

In the Battle of Thymbra in 547 BC, Cyrus the Great, used camels that were carrying goods, food, and water, and positioned them on the flanks of his army. 

The strong smell of camels and their unordinary looks disrupted the enemy cavalry, disoriented their horses, and enabled Cyrus to win the battle. 

Herodotus writes: The two armies joined battle, and immediately the Lydian war-horses, seeing and smelling the camels, turned round and galloped off[1]

More than 2200 years after that battle, a Victorian desert explorer and a writer, Charles Montagu Doughty, wrote a bit more positive about the camel’s odor:

The smell of camel is muskish and a little dog-like, the hinder parts being crusted with urine, yet the camel is more beautiful in our eyes because man sees in this creature his whole welfare…” [2]

Our modern counterparts are not as kind as Charles was, as one describes their smell: like a warm sweaty sock that someone wore while running a marathon.

The ultimate conclusion is: camels do smell, and they smell bad.

The question is, what makes them so stinky?

Why Do Camels Smell So Bad?

Camels smell extremely bad because they live in hot conditions, do not wash, and pee on their legs to cool down. During a rut, their poll glands and dullas emit a strong smell, and as ruminants, camels regurgitate food to chew it further, which makes their smell even fouler.

1. Camels Live Outside In Hot And Dry Environments

Camels are native to the Gobi Desert and steppes of Mongolia, desert areas in North Africa and the Middle East, and some live even in Australia.

In all of these places, temperatures can go up to 104 degrees F (40 degrees C) during summer.

Such temperatures usually mean not too much water being available around. 

No water means no place to wash. 

How would you feel if you had to wear the same shirt for 5 days straight when you are on a summer vacation?

Now, imagine how it would feel if you wore the same shirt your entire life without washing it.

Perhaps a better idea would be not to.

2. Camels Pee On Their Legs

Camels are masters at conserving water and cooling themselves

They have thick, smelly wool to prevent heat from reaching their skin, they rarely sweat, and they use their pee to cool themselves down.

To conserve as much water as possible, camels will produce concentrated urine. This urine is very thick and salty.

Because of high amounts of potassium salts, when it dries, their urine creates additional odor problems and can smell like ammonia.

By the way, camels do not pee on themselves just to cool down.

When they are in a mating season, they will pee on their tails and then swish their tails around to spread that pee all over the place. 

And that’s just one element of camel’s weird courtship games.

Here’s another one.

3. In A Rut, Their Poll Glands And Dulla Smell Really Bad

When they are in a mating season, camels will excrete a weird fluid on their necks, behind the ears. When exposed to air, it will become dark and drip down the neck of the camel.

This poll gland secretion has been described as very copious with offensive odor and a strong fetid smell. [3

Dark brown secretion of the paired poll gland exuding through the skin of the rutting dromedary camel (Arrows).

Dark brown secretion of the paired poll gland exuding through the skin of the rutting dromedary camel (Arrows).

When they are in heat, a camel will blow up his soft palate, and let it hang by the side of the mouth. 

This organ is called a dulla.

Robyn Davidson, an Australian writer describes it and its smell as a “hideously repulsive pink, purple and green balloon, covered in slobber and smelling indescribably foul, that female camels perversely find attractive[4

4. Camels Are Ruminants

And like all ruminants, camels will first chew some food, then swallow it, and then regurgitate that cud for further chewing. When they do that, smelly gasses come up as well, creating a pretty potent odor.

This regurgitated half-digested grass really reeks.

According to Carol Bibler, who owns a Bactrian camel, camel breath smells much worse than that of a goat or a cow, probably because of the camel’s much bigger size.

Also, camels create smelly gasses by farting. That can also be an overwhelming smell. 

Camels are also known to spit, and their spit can also have an unpleasant smell.

It is a mixture of saliva and partially digested plants; bad enough to make you feel sick or nauseous after smelling it!

However, there is one important and positive role of the camel’s strong smell. Finally!

Milking a camel can sometimes prove to be a difficult task. 

Because of its special udder structure, to be able to get milk from a camel, a calf is required to stimulate its mother to release the milk.  Otherwise, it’s extremely difficult to get to it. 

Some scientists claim that the smell of the calf can be an important psychosomatic stimulation to his mother. 

Her smelling her calf may cause an increased release of oxytocin and facilitate milk ejection. [5

This makes it easier for milkers to come and get that liquid white nectar. 

Read more: What Does A Bear Smell Like?

Final Thoughts

This concludes our article on why camels smell so bad. 

Camels stink because they live in hot environments with no water to wash. They urinate on themselves to cool down, regurgitate food and rechew it, and excrete a strong foul goo when in a rut.


References

[1] Histories By Herodotus, Pekka Mansikka, 2021

[2] Travels in Arabia Deserta, Charles Montagu Doughty, Cosimo, Inc., 2010

[3] Ibrahim, Z. H., K. A. Al-Kheraije, and E. A. El-Tigani-Asil. “Seasonal studies on morphology and immunohistochemical localisation of s-100 and alpha smooth muscle actin proteins in poll glands of dromedary camel.” Journal of Camel Practice and Research 27.1 (2020): 39-47.

[4] Davidson R., Tracks, p. 196.

[5] EISA, Mohamed Osman, ABU-NIKHAILA Abd Elmoneim Mukhtar, and Ali Mohamed ABD EL MAJID. “Study on milk stimulation interval in camel using the nomadic traditional method.” Algerian Journal of Arid Environment “AJAE” 2.2 (2012): 8-8.

Photo Source

Seasonal studies on morphology and immunohistochemical localisation of s-100 and alpha smooth muscle actin proteins in poll glands of dromedary camel – Scientific Figure on ResearchGate. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Dark-brown-secretion-of-the-paired-poll-gland-exuding-through-the-skin-of-the-rutting_fig1_341061396 [accessed 2 Dec, 2021]

Similar Posts