The camel—a drought-defying marvel of design
A wonderful water-conserving mammal
Drought—the iconic image is of dry, cracked earth as far as the eye can see, the monotony only broken by the scattered bones of some unfortunate animal. The only visible signs of life might be a few hardy bushes and some tufts of grass. It is the bane of farmers and graziers/ranchers everywhere.
It is however a recurring fact of life in any dry climate. Countless head of livestock have been ravaged by it over the years, with whole herds of cattle, goats, and sheep wiped out by its most severe form. But there is one animal, the camel, whose drought-defying features enable it to conserve water and tolerate dehydration so as to enable the bulk of the herd to survive, even under conditions that would be catastrophic for other grazing animals.1
For example, our body’s normal internal temperature is approximately 37°C with only slight variation over a 24-hour period (about half a degree either side). Like many mammals, as we heat up, we sweat in order to maintain this temperature. Rather than wasting excess moisture maintaining a constant temperature, the camel’s internal body temperature is regulated so that it steadily increases from 34°C at dawn to 41°C during the hottest part of the day.2
The camel can then dissipate the stored heat overnight, bringing its internal temperature back to 34°C by the following morning. Its fine woolly coat assists by insulating against excessive heat gain. This reduces water loss by as much as two-thirds compared with maintaining a constant temperature.
It’s in the blood
When the camel does sweat, it prevents its blood from thickening (a condition that can result in cardiac failure) by replacing lost moisture from other body tissues.2 Thus a camel can tolerate a 25 to 30% loss of body mass by dehydration—twice what would be fatal for most mammals.1
The red blood cells of the camel also have membranes that permit an unusual degree of swelling. So when a source of water is available, despite the fact that the camel can absorb over 100 litres of water (25 gallons) into its body in just 10 minutes,1 they won’t burst under the osmotic variation (the sudden diluting of the blood). The blood cells of cattle would rupture in the same situation.
A thirsty camel is able to further minimize moisture loss by concentrating its urine into a thick syrup. This reduces output to one-fifth of the normal volume, while the faeces produced are so dry they can immediately be used as fuel for fire.
A camel doesn’t always need a direct source of water in dry conditions, either. In cooler weather, if supplied with a source of forage that contains enough moisture, a camel may not drink any water for months. It can also tolerate a much higher level of saltiness in the water, since it needs six to eight times as much salt as other animals in order to absorb and store water.3
One hump or two?
Of course the feature that is synonymous with the camel is its hump (two in the case of Bactrian camels). This is not a storage area for water, as commonly believed, but fat, which the camel uses as energy when food sources aren’t available. When food is plentiful the camel will overeat and store the excess as fat in its hump, which can weigh as much as 45 kg.2 As the fat in the hump is converted to energy in times of scarcity, the hump begins to shrink and can even slip off the back and hang down the side. However, once the camel is able to rest and eat, the hump will become firm and plump again.
Camels can rebuild this fat supply from a range of sources that many other animals would find prohibitive. With their strong canine teeth they can crush tough, woody plants and tree branches. Thorny plants can be eaten due to the thick, leathery lining in their mouths. Even such unusual items as bone, leather and cloth can be consumed when other forage is unavailable. Combined with their water conservation abilities, it becomes very easy to see why camels are so highly valued as dry-zone pack and draft animals, and why mankind has had a long dependency on them.
Camels are classified in the genus Camelus of the Camelidae family, which also includes the South American camelids, the llama and guanaco (genus Lama), and the alpaca and vicuña (genus Vicugna). There is very good evidence that the Lama, Camelus and Vicugna genera share a common ancestor, i.e. represent one created kind. Hybridization of the male dromedary camel and female llama (via artificial insemination because the camel is six times larger) has resulted in an offspring known as a cama. This was produced as a way to gain the coat (and hopefully temperament) of the llama as well as the endurance of the camel.4
The alleged evolutionary history of the Camelidae family is said to have begun approximately 40 million years ago in North America. Then about 2 million years ago camelids migrated from North America into Asia and then Africa where, after successive changes, we are told they purportedly evolved into the Camelus genus (Bactrian and Arabian camels, the latter also known as dromedaries).1,5 Note that none of this can be demonstrated by testable, repeatable science, but is an assumption based on the interpretation of the available evidence to support an evolutionary worldview (i.e. there was no God who acted as Designer and Creator, but everything arose through natural processes without any kind of intent or design from an intelligent source).
Camels and the Bible
Contrast the evolutionary storyline with the creationist view, which is also an interpretation of the same available evidence, but is established on the eyewitness account of our Creator provided in the book of Genesis. On Day 6 of Creation Week, the camelid kind was created by God approximately 6000 years ago. Approximately 4500 years ago, one pair of camelids6 was taken on board the Ark for survival. As animals dispersed from the Ark, camelids moved into Africa and Asia.7
The Bible records that camels were in Egypt when Abraham was there (Genesis 12:16). About the same time in Uz, Job had 6,000 camels (Job 42:12). This biblical timeline of camels in the Middle East matches what we see from the archaeological record.8
During the Ice Age that followed Noah’s Flood, lower sea levels meant that the Camelidae family could move from Asia into North America via what is now the Bering Strait but was then dry land.9 From there, camelids moved into South America.
Along the way, selection pressures from the environment meant that they adapted and varied, even to the extent of producing the separate species we see today. But unlike microbes-to-man evolutionary claims, such adaptation is not a creative, uphill process. Rather, the information for camels, llamas, and so on was already present in the original camelid kind.
Some simple design features (e.g. the broader foot pads that prevent sinking into the soft sand) might conceivably have been the result of mutational mistakes that happened to suit a particular environment. However, overall, the idea that the sophisticated design features of camels could have all arisen by selection of random mutations lacks scientific credibility. For one thing, it would require large numbers of gain-of-function mutations, an idea which simply isn’t supported by the available evidence.10
Change consistent with creation
The sort of genetic sorting which we do observe from adaptation by natural selection is a process which causes the daughter populations to become more specialized—we see more varieties, even species, but each has less variability than the ancestral group. This is an overall downhill change that brings each group closer to extinction as it loses its genetic flexibility (its ability to cope with further change). So when the camel was subject to natural selection, pre-existing features supporting life in an arid landscape came to the fore, offset by the loss of information not conducive to living in a harsh, dry climate.
Such downhill change is consistent with the original creation of fully functioning groups of organisms, and a subsequently fallen world.11 Realizing this reminds us that we ourselves, too, are not evolving ‘onwards and upwards’. Rather, like all of creation, humanity is “in bondage to corruption” and we need a Saviour, Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Bible.
References and notes
- Camel, Encyclopedia Britannica (online library edition), library.eb.com.au, as at 11 November 2013. Return to text.
- Weston, P., Camels—confirmation of creation, Creation 19(4):26–29, 1997; creation.com/camel. Return to text.
- Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia (2nd Edition) 15:320, 2004. Return to text.
- Another camel/llama hybrid, Creation 25(3):9–2003; creation.com/focus-253. Return to text.
- World Book Encyclopedia, 3:76–77, 2013. Return to text.
- Batten, D., Ligers and wholphins? What next? Creation 22(3):28–33, 2000; creation.com/ligers. Return to text.
- Note that camels are found in some of the same regions as woolly mammoths—see Oard, M., The extinction of the woolly mammoth: was it a quick freeze? J. Creation 14(3):24–34, 2000; creation.com/snapfreeze. Return to text.
- Cosner, L., Camels and the Bible, creation.com/camels, 11 February 2014. Return to text.
- Statham, D., Biogeography, J. Creation 24(1):82–87, 2010; creation.com/biogeography. Return to text.
- Carter, R.W., Can mutations create new information? J. Creation 25(2);92–98, 2011; creation.com/mutations-new-information. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., The evolution train’s a-comin’, Creation 24(2):16–19, 2002; creation.com/train. Return to text.