The Difference Between Bactrian And Dromedary Camels

By Debra Kelly on Tuesday, December 24, 2013
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“A dromedary has one hump, and a camel has a refreshment car, buffet, and ticket collector.” —Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “Camel Spotting”

In A Nutshell

A dromedary is a subspecies of camel, native to deserts across India, Africa, and the Middle East. So what’s with the animals that have one hump and the ones that have two? That’s where the difference comes in; the dromedary has one hump, while the other subspecies of camel, the Bactrian, has two. And also unlike their more popular cousins, the Bactrian lives in the searingly hot (and freezing cold) rocky deserts of Central and East Asia.

The Whole Bushel

When we think of camels, it’s usually the more popular dromedary that comes to mind first. One of two subspecies of camel, these are the one-humped variety. It’s thought that their original habitat was southern Asia and the Middle East, but now they can be found throughout the desert regions of the Middle East, India and Africa.

The most noticeable difference between the dromedary and the Bactrian is the number of humps—the Bactrian has two. They’re also found in a much more northern climate than the dromedary. The Bactrian is found throughout the Siberian steppe and the cold, arid deserts of Central and Eastern Asia. While we tend to think of camels crossing the sandy deserts of Africa and the Middle East, a Bactrian in its native habitat can present a much different picture. In the winter, temperatures in their native habitat can drop as low as –29° Celsius (–20° F).

In both types, the camel’s hump—or humps—act as storage. Made up of fat and tissues, the camels can draw nutrients and moisture from their humps; a healthy camel will have humps that are the same firmness as the rest of their body, while those that are draining resources will have softer, flabby humps. When they have access to water, they can both drink more than 100 liters (26 gal) in less than 10 minutes. Both camels are herbivores, and they have the ability to eat thorny, prickly, or dry shrubs and grass that many other animals can’t. Bactrian camels have also been known to eat the bones and skin of animals that have been killed by carnivores, but only when there is no other food available.

The Bactrians have a long, shaggy coat that helps protect them in the cold winter months. They shed their long fur in the summer, when they are faced with temperatures much like those that their southern cousins thrive in. The dromedary has a much shorter coat. The Bactrian is typically dark brown to beige in coloring, while the dromedary is commonly brown. However, there are also black and white individuals, with almost every shade in between.

The two different species of camel have very different feet, each adapted to their specific environments. The dromedary thrives in mostly sandy conditions, and has padded feet that can easily be punctured by stones and other sharp objects. The Bactrian also has wide feet that allow them to more easily walk across snow and sand, but their feet are tougher and can stand up to their more rocky environment.

Dromedary camels have one baby at a time, and these babies are dependent on their mothers for anywhere from 12 to 24 months; they tend not to breed until they are about three years old for females, and six years old for males. Bactrian camels can have one or two babies (although one is much more common) and continue nursing them for up to a year and a half. The young aren’t completely independent until they’re five years old, thought they can bear young of their own between three and five years.

In the wild, both types of camels can live—on average—to between 40 and 50 years old. In captivity, though, the lifespan of the Bactrian drops to around 35 years while the dromedary’s average lifespan doesn’t fluctuate.

Show Me The Proof

National Geographic: Bactrian camel
National Geographic: Dromedary camel