Camelidae – Camels

Humans and camelids have a 6000-year-old relationship; 4 of 5 species are domesticated

Camelids, encompassing the humpbacked camels of the African and Asian deserts and the humpless varieties native to South America, such as llamas and alpacas, represent a fascinating group within the animal kingdom known for their remarkable adaptations to extreme environments. This family, Camelidae, is divided into two distinct tribes: the Camelini, which includes the Bactrian and dromedary camels, and the Lamini, comprising the South American camelids like llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos.

The Bactrian camel, with its two humps, and the dromedary camel, with one, are icons of the desert landscape, known for their ability to traverse vast, arid terrains with little to no water. The humps of these camels are a vital adaptation, storing fat that can be metabolized into water and energy when resources are scarce, allowing these animals to go for weeks without drinking. Using fat reserves efficiently is key to survival in sparse food and water environments.

In contrast, the South American camelids, which include the domesticated llama and alpaca, as well as the wild vicuña and guanaco, have evolved to thrive in the mountainous regions of the Andes. These animals do not have humps, but like their African and Asian cousins, they have developed unique adaptations to their environments. Llamas and alpacas are primarily used as pack animals and for their wool, respectively, playing significant roles in the livelihoods of indigenous peoples in the Andes.

A common misconception about camelids is their temperament and the idea that they spit when angry. In reality, camelids do not spit but may regurgitate and project the contents of their stomachs when they feel threatened or distressed. This behavior is more common in the South American species but can occur in all camelids as a defense mechanism.

Camelids have long been intertwined with human cultures, providing transportation, wool, meat, and milk. In recent years, camel milk, in particular, has gained attention for its nutritional benefits and potential medicinal properties.