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Camels are unusual animals that once roamed North America
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Camels are unusual animals that once roamed North America

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Happy holidays! I hope you have a great celebration with your family.

In books about Christmas you may have seen drawings, or decorations, showing the three wise men riding camels. Here are some interesting facts about these unusual animals, which are ungulates (hoofed animals) like deer, moose and elk.

Although camels are now more commonly linked with North Africa and the Middle East, the species first lived in western North America. That was about 45 million years ago. They are called camelops. Some survived as far north as Alaska.

Eventually some of the animals walked to South America and are the ancestors of llamas and alpacas. Others hiked into Asia across the Bering Strait land bridge that’s now under water. The camelops all died in North America about 11,000 years ago.

The camels that survive today have some interesting features. The linings of their mouths and lips are so tough they can eat spiky plants like cactus and not get hurt.

Camels with two humps are called Bactrian camels. They live in western China and central Asia. One-humped camels are called dromedary and live in Arabia and Africa.

It’s a myth that the humps hold water. Instead, they store fat allowing them to live for months without eating, which would be important in a desert with little food. A young camel won’t grow a hump until it is about 10 months old.

Camels have three sets of eyelids, two rows of eyelashes and can completely shut their nostrils. These help them survive in dusty places like deserts where there can be a lot of wind blowing the sand around.

An adult camel can drink up to 30 gallons of water in one long slurp. That’s as much liquid as a full-size pickup truck carries in its gas tank. If one gallon weighs about 8 pounds, that’s more than 240 pounds of water a camel is carrying.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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