What do camels eat?

What Food Does a Camel Eat?

Camels come in two types: dromedary or one-hump camels and bactrian or two-hump camels. The bactrian is native to Central Asia, while the dromedary comes from the Middle East and northern Africa. Both species have very similar diets and eating habits, regardless of where they live.

Camels are herbivores and will graze—eat constantly throughout the day—just as sheep do. Camels are also ruminants, which means they eat food, then regurgitate it and chew it before swallowing one last time. This is why camels have four stomachs, to help them process food properly. Because they live in the desert, where food might be scarce, they move constantly while eating. This actually helps preserve vegetation so no area is completely degraded by constant eating.

What They Actually Eat

Food choices are limited in the desert, so the camel is not exactly picky. Whatever twigs, stems and green shoots are available—except poisonous plants, which the camel can recognize—he will eat. The camel will even eat plants like saltbush, which are thorny and which most other animals will ignore. Camels near oases have more access to greener options, such as willows and poplar leaves and twigs.

The humps of the camel are for fat storage, not water storage as many people believe. According to National Geographic, the humps can store as much as 80 pounds of fat, which can be easily broken down and used for nourishment—in place of both food and water—when nothing else is available. The humps alone are enough to keep a camel alive for a couple of weeks without eating or drinking.

What do camels eat in the desert?

Camels are made for the harsh desert environment. They even have especially tough lips for thorny plants.

Dromedary camels have one hump, like the animal here walking in the desert between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Dromedary camels have one hump, like the animal here walking in the desert between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. (Image credit: Mlenny/iStock/Getty Images)

Camels survive in the driest, hottest, most barren spots on Earth. And somehow they manage to get enough food; but what do they eat in places that seem devoid of life?

All three species of camels — Camelus dromedarius, Camelus bactrianus and Camelus ferus — have evolved several adaptations to make desert-living possible, according to the Natural History Museum, London (opens in new tab) (NHM). In addition to the one or two humps they sport — which are made of fat and do not act as water tanks — they also specialized lips for desert foods.

They have a split upper lip, with each half moving separately to allow the animal to graze close to the ground to eat short grasses — a must in the desert where everything is slow-growing, according to the San Diego Zoo (opens in new tab) .

Their lips are also leathery and tough yet still flexible, which means camels can break off and eat both thorny and salty plants (such as saltbush), the zoo said. Fleshy protrusions called papillae also line their mouths to both protect the mouth from poke-y foods and help the camels manipulate and swallow that food, according to the NHM.

Dromedary camels — which sport one hump — primarily eat “thorny plants, dry grasses and saltbush,” the Oakland zoo reported, adding that the animals also will eat just about any desert plant available. Overall, these camels eat grasses, leaves and twigs from any plant in the desert, along with green shoots of the saxaul shrub in the genus Haloxylon, according to the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (opens in new tab) . In addition, they eat the stems and foliage from various desert shrubs in the genuses Salsola, Ephedra and Zygophyllum, according to the zoo alliance.

Bactrian camels (C. bactrianus and C. ferus) in Mongolia feed on Caragana, Haloxylon, Reaumuria and Salsola plants that grow there, the zoo alliance said.

So what happens once they swallow their herbivorous meals? Camels have three to four stomachs; the food gets partially broken down in the first two stomachs before being regurgitated as cud and nommed on again, the zoo alliance said. Once it’s swallowed and enters the other stomach (or two), that cud succumbs to the forces of several microbes that help with digestion.

And when food is not available, not to worry, as camels can survive for more than a week with no water and for months without food, according to PBS (opens in new tab) .

What Do Camels Eat? Daily Diet, Nutrition And Fun Facts

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Published on Nov 24, 2021

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The camel is the sole member of the suborder Tylopoda and belongs to the genus Camelus.

Though twigs, shrubs, dry grasses, leaves, prickly plants, and other plants such as saltbushes and cactus are all eaten by camels, they are not entirely herbivores. Camels may become omnivores if required, consuming carrion, bones, and fish when the grass is limited.

The one-humped dromedaries, generally known as Arabian camels, account for 94% of all camels on the planet. They mainly reside in the Gobi Desert, India, and the middle regions of Africa, primarily north Africa. Bactrian camels with two hump make up the remaining 6% of the world’s camels and are native to the Bactrian steppes of Mongolia.

The wild Bactrian camels are different species that are critically endangered. Because dromedary camels are so prevalent, ‘dromedary’ and ‘camel’ are sometimes interchangeably used. In addition, the term ‘camelid’ can apply to any member of the Camelidae family. This includes ‘real camels’ and New World camelids such as the alpaca, llama, alpaca, vicuna, and guanaco. Around 700,000 dromedary camels were brought as a mode of transportation in the 19th and early 20th centuries, are now wild throughout Australia.

Dromedary camel has been tamed all over the world. This population is increasing at an annual rate of roughly 8%. In part, more than 10,000 camels have been slaughtered by Australian government officials because camels use too much of the limited resources required by sheep producers. After being imported in the 19th century as part of the US Camel Corps experiment, a small feral population of introduced dromedary and Bactrians camels roamed through the southwestern United States.

So what do domestic camels eat? What do dromedary camels eat? What do Bactrian camels eat? After reading about what do camels eat, also check do camels spit and camel facts.

How much do camels eat per day?

How much food can a dromedary camel or a Bactrian camel eat in a day? The answer to this question is contingent on the type of food being served. These animals can consume 17.63-26.46 lb (8-12 kg) of dry food in a day, but 22.04-44.09 lb (10-20 kg) of fresh food in a day.

The camel’s humps are used to store fat and not store water, as many people assume. The humps may store up to 80 lb (36.28 kg) of fat; this fat stored can be readily broken down and utilized for nourishment in place of both food and water when nothing else is available. According to National Geographic, when a thirsty camel cannot drink water, it depends on this stored fat for water.

The humps alone are sufficient to keep a camel alive for several weeks without food or drinking water. A camel eats dry grasses, leaves, twigs, shrubs, desert bushes, and desert plants. Because humans have begun to treat our domestic camels differently, camels choose to be fed fruits and eat vegetation besides their regular dietary habits.

What plants do camels eat?

Camels are herbivores and, like sheep, will graze (feed continually throughout the day). Camels are ruminants, which means they consume, regurgitate, and chew their food before ingesting it again like cows.

Camels have four stomachs to aid in the appropriate digestion of food. These animals keep moving continually while eating since they live in the desert, where food is scarce. This actually aids in the preservation of plants, ensuring that no region is entirely destroyed as a result of frequent feeding.

Because there are few options for food in the desert, the camel isn’t choosy. Except for harmful plants, which the camel can distinguish, he will eat whatever branches, stems, and green shoots are available. The camel will even eat vegetation like saltbush, which most other animals will avoid.

Camels can eat a variety of vegetables, such as carrots. Camels near the oasis have more greenery, such as willow and poplar leaves and twigs. However, with different living conditions, food habits change.

Camels in the wild eat grass that has been dried, shrubs in the desert, twigs, stems, leaves, and seeds; all plant parts. They also feed on date stones, cacti, saltbushes, and other horny plants, bones, carrion, and fish. Camels can also feed on pellets of alfalfa, Bermuda hay, and dried grass.

In captivity, camels can feed on carrots, apples, dates, and other fruits and vegetables. Wheat and oats are some of the most common grains that should be a part of the diet and vitamins and minerals supplements. Camels in captivity need a high sodium content. To fulfill the demand, the zookeepers often feed them salt blocks.

For the camels, apples are a wonderful delicacy. Apples must be managed to be eaten up by the rear molars because camels lack front top teeth. That may be a complex procedure, which is why they appear to be eating them so strangely.

Do camels eat peanuts?

This is a disputed topic, as there is no fixed answer to this. According to some rumored photos on social media platforms, it is indicated that camels might enjoy the peanut butter treat.

However, it is not very reliable as in the photos; all you can see is some food of peanut butter color and consistency sticking to the camel’s face. Indeed, that is not a reliable source, and the mystery remains to be in the shadows.

Do camels eat prickly pear?

The prickly pear cactus appeals to these camels for some reason. They enjoy it so much that they are willing to endure the 6 in (15.24 cm) needles on the pads or cladodes. Like monkey tails and cat claws, Camels’ lips are prehensile, allowing them to grip and retain objects such as carrots.

They also have canine teeth and papillae, which are elevated cone-like structures that assist them in moving food around in their mouths. This doesn’t imply they aren’t aware of the cactus spikes, but they appear to enjoy the prickly pear and cacti enough to put up with the prickly pain. The camel’s revolving chew distributes the pressure from the cactus, and the papillae glide the needles vertically down the throat. The pointy edges won’t poke the camel when it eats them this way.

Camels’ papillae are made up in part of keratin, the same hard substance that makes up your fingernails. Camels may physically eat cactus, but the spikey plants might be harmful to them. Despite this, they frequently prefer to endure the discomfort and perhaps agony to enjoy the fleshy green sections. Although there are no prickly pear cactus in the Middle East, generally linked with camels, the animals consume hard, thorny vegetation.

How do camels eat cactus?

Camels can eat cactus. Papillae are the cells that coat the inside of their lips. When they consume the cactus, the papillae protect them from injury by allowing food to travel through one way, directly to the stomach.

Camels have a hard palate at the roof of their mouth, which is unusual. While chewing, the palate protects the camel’s mouth from injury.

The cactus needles glide down the camel’s throat with the assistance of the papillae, inflicting no harm. They’ve had to adjust to eating prickly cactus due to the challenging circumstances in the desert. The papillae are tough ‘wiggly fingers,’ which aid the camel in avoiding harm to its lips. Food is directed down to the stomach via the papillae.

They tilt their mouth to allow the needles to travel down the throat vertically. Keratin, the same strong ingredient that makes up nails, is used to make papillae. Camels can live happily in deserts because they have the characteristics to adapt to harsh environments. Cacti are mainly found in arid climates. Camels may be found there, while cactus make up the majority of the flora.

Do camels eat bones?

The severe conditions of their environment might force wild camels to become omnivorous during difficult times. When there is a lack of vegetation, they will survive by eating bones, fish, and carrion.

Camels have been known to devour leather and the ruins of travelers’ tents when they come upon them.

The food of domestic camels differs from that of their feral camels or wild counterparts. Camels are herbivorous creatures, but specialists have noticed that these tame animals have been compelled to eat dead animal bones more frequently than they would otherwise due to the repeated droughts and dryness.

Camels have a significant role in desert communities, particularly in terms of their socio-economic value. They are cherished friends, a source of milk and meat, a mode of transportation, and a source of pleasure in activities like racing and dancing.

Do camels eat bugs?

Camels are herbivores and are occasional omnivores due to the harsh climate. Thus, they do not eat bugs. With the help of large humps on their back, they can go without food for a long time.

The situationist omnivores avoid eating meat and bones until it is necessary for them to maintain their health. Living in deserts cannot be easy. Lack of vegetation in deep deserts is the only reason camels feed on meat.

Do camels eat bushes?

A domestic camel consumes wheat, oats, hay, and other common camel foods; a wild camel eats dried grasses, plants, shrubs, twigs, and prickly plants found in the desert; and zoo camels eat pellets, Bermuda hay, fruits, vegetables, and vitamins and minerals supplements to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. They also feed on alfalfa pellets.

When there is nothing else to eat, camels are willing to consume flesh. Camels in the desert must eat whatever is available to provide them with the nutrients they require. As a result, they are opportunistic foragers capable of eating even prickly vegetation, similar to goats. Their digestive processes enable them to ingest roughage, allowing them to take advantage of the most abundant thorny plants when food is scarce. They can also feed on toxic plants and poisonous plants when required.

Did You Know?

Wild Bactrian camels (Camelus bactrianus) and the dromedary camel (Arabian camel) are the two types of camels (Camelus dromedarius) used in desert areas, both of which have two humps and one hump on their backs which is used to store fat, respectively.

Dromedary camel (Arabian camel) is commonly known as the Arabian camel, accounts for over 90% of all these animals (camels) on the planet. Dromedary camels live as domestic animals as they have been tamed all over the world. This camel’s body has one hump.

A camel can survive without water for weeks in hot sand. However, as living beings, a thirsty camel needs to drink water. Humans utilize them for various reasons, the most common of which is to move across arid climates. A camel can survive without food or water for lengthy periods.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for what do camels eat, then why not take a look at how long can a camel go without water or camel teeth.

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What Do Camels Eat? Their Diet Explained

Camels are even-toed ungulates that live in the desert. We know them for being able to go a long time without water and storing fat in their humps. Some people have them as livestock for milk, meat, and hair. Living in a harsh, hot, and dry habitat, though, how do they find food? What is their diet? Let’s learn about what these desert survivors known as camels eat.

What Do Camels Eat

A camel is an opportunistic feeder that will eat anything, even thorny bushes.

Camels are members of the genus Camelus and the only living member of the suborder Tylopoda. 94 percent of the camels in the world are one-humped dromedaries, also called Arabian camels. The other 6 percent are two-humped Bactrian camels. A separate species, the Wild Bactrian, is critically endangered.

Because dromedary camels are so common, “dromedary” is used interchangeably with “camel.” Also, “camelid” can refer to a wider sense including all members of the family Camelidae. That would not only be the “true camels” but New World camelids the alpaca, the llama, the alpaca, the vicuña, and the guanaco.

Camels can not only withstand harsh conditions that would kill most other mammals, but they can also survive for months. Most mammals can only survive a few days without it, but at least a few weeks without food. We can then understand that the camel’s physical hardiness will have to compensate for the lack of water in the desert. The camel can live six to seven months without an external source of water, and that’s where the fat hump comes in. As it burns the fat for fuel, the hump gets smaller. It can drink up to 53 gallons or 200 liters of water in three minutes if it’s been deprived of water, so as to make the most of water when it manages to find it.

But what about its diet? A camel eats twigs, bushes, dried grasses, leaves, thorny, and other plants such as saltbushes and cacti. It eats almost all parts of a plant. However, they are not strictly herbivores and can become omnivores if necessary, resorting to eating carrion, bones, and fish when vegetation is scarce. The Bactrian or two-humped camel is the last truly wild species alive today.

In the zoo, the camel is given alfalfa pellets, fruits, vegetables, Bermuda hay, grains, salt blocks, and vitamin and mineral supplements. The dromedary, Arabian or one-humped camel has been domesticated and it’s found in desert caravans or in captivity. It has no wild counterparts, only feral ones that have escaped captivity.

How do camels find food?

In the desert, camels must have a diet of whatever is around them that can give them the nutrition they need. Hence, they are opportunistic foragers that can eat even thorny plants, like goats. Their digestive systems allow them to eat roughage to make use of the most plentiful vegetation.

What Do Camels Eat

A dromedary near the sea in the Oman empty quarter of the desert. Camels are opportunistic foragers that can eat even thorny plants.

How do camels eat?

Camels are herbivore, cud-chewing mammals but are not true ruminants, also known as pseudo ruminants. Ruminants all have multi-chambered stomachs, which are falsely believed to be multiple stomachs. These stomachs have different parts that are specialized for herbivore diets. Camels and all other camelids are lacking the fourth stomach compartment called the omasum, which squeezes the fluid out of the food — something which they don’t need in the desert, anyway. Instead, they have glandular sacs for specialized digestive functions. They also have large mouths with leathery lips that allow them to eat thorny plants.

A Complete List of Foods Camels Eat

Wild camels eat:

  • Dried grasses
  • Desert bushes
  • Twigs, stems, leaves, and seeds
  • Date stones
  • Saltbushes, cacti and other horny plants
  • Carrion, bones, and fish

Camels in captivity eat:

  • Alfalfa pellets
  • Carrots, apples, dates, and other fruits and vegetables
  • Bermuda hay
  • Dried grass
  • Wheat, oats, and other grains
  • Salt blocks
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements

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AZ Animals Staff

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and — of course — pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What do camels eat in the desert?

Almost all parts of plants, grasses, and leaves.

Do camels eat meat?

Yes, if they can’t find vegetation to eat.

Do camels eat dates?

Yes, camels eat dates as well as other fruits.

Do camels eat cactus?

Yes, they have been seen eating cactus while avoiding the spikes.

Do camels eat carrots?

Yes, they eat carrots and other vegetables.

What do camels like to eat for treats?

In captivity, their favorite treats are alfafa pellets, wheat, and oats. In the wild, they love to eat spiny plants, Aristida plumosa (desert grass), and Panicum turgidum (perennial desert bunchgrass).


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.

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“.

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