How Do a Camel's Hooves Help It?

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Camels are famous for their humps, which allow them to go for long periods without eating or drinking under the hot desert sun. Their bodies have many adaptations that let them go without water for four days or more. For one, their humps' contents are reservoirs of energy between feedings. A camel’s feet are also adapted to help it survive in rugged desert environments.

Environment

Camels come from some of the harshest environments in the world. They originated in the hot, dry Sahara Desert in North Africa and the rough, rugged Gobi desert located in parts of eastern and central Asia. Daytime temperatures in these areas routinely exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, while the desert nights can drop below freezing in the winter, dropping down to 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit in the Gobi. The terrain in these areas is mostly sand or hard, rocky soil.

Foot Structure

A camel’s feet are actually not hooves, but each toe does have a hard nail that gives the impression of a hoof. The large, wide feet are divided in half, and the halves are joined underneath by webbing. Each foot spreads and flattens as the camel puts his weight on it. The pads of a camel’s feet are covered with thick, protective soles. Inside each foot, toward the heel, is a thick ball of fat.

Benefits

The structure of the camel’s foot is well-adapted for the creature's environment. The wide, spreading toes keep the camel from sinking into loose and shifting sands, and the webbing between the toes unites them into a single surface to further resist sinking. The thick sole provides a barrier against the hot desert sands, protecting the camel from being burned as it walks. The inner ball of fat also helps, as it has an insulting and cushioning effect.

Concerns

While the soft, flexible foot of the camel is ideal for walking in a hot, sandy desert, the very softness that makes it good there renders it vulnerable to various hazards. Domesticated camels who carry loads over long distances can end up limping on swollen feet from walking on hard, unyielding roadways. The soft sole is also at risk for injury from sharp rocks, bits of wire, glass and other such hazards. Disinfecting wounds can help, as can wrapping the foot with a protective covering.

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