The Debunker: What's Inside A Camel's Hump, Anyway?

by Ken Jennings

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, August is, just like the human body, at least 60 percent made of water: vacations to the beach, weekend trips to the lake or pool, big pitchers full of refreshing ice water. August is also National Water Quality Month, as you probably know, and it’s when we all have our big get-togethers to celebrate World Water Week (August 26-31!) and Sea Serpent Day (August 7). It may be hot and dry where you are right now, but at least Ken Jennings can make it rain knowledge with his August Debunker column, deflating everything you think you know about H2O.

Water Myth #4: Camels Store Water in Their Humps.

I’m not sure how the legend that the camel’s humps are water reservoirs has stuck around for so long. The very first thirsty person to tap a camel’s hump in hopes of a cool drink would have been sorely disappointed, since the humps are full not of water but of thick white fat. It’s food storage, not a water tank. Theoretically, a camel could metabolize that fat into water, but it turns out the energy required would use up more water than it produced, so that’s not what the hump is for.

Camels are remarkable for their ability to go without water. You’d be dangerously dehydrated if you lost 10 percent or so of your body weight, while a camel can survive losing fully a quarter of its water. But most of the adaptations that make this possible have nothing to do with its hump. It sweats less than other animals, for one thing, and long legs keep most of its body away from the radiant heat of the desert sand. It’s the only mammal with red blood cells that are oval in shape, which helps its blood flow even when thickened by loss of water. Even its excretory system is astonishingly efficient: camel pee oozes out as thick as syrup (eww) and its poop is so dry that you can take it straight from the camel-butt and light your campfire with it.

The hump’s one contribution to camel-cooling is its location: by sitting atop the camel’s back, it provides insulation from the scorching desert sun. Finally, an evolutionary advantage for back fat! Camels, you are an inspiration to us all!

Quick Quiz: What comic strip character is famous for his use of a “Sopwith Camel”?

Ken Jennings is the author of Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

Photo by Flickr member xikita. Used under a Creative Commons License.