What Do Camels Eat? Their Diet Explained

What Do Camels Eat
Chris Ison/Shutterstock.com

Written by Rebecca Bales

Updated: September 19, 2022

Share on:


Key Point

  • Camels eat shrubs, trees, and grass.
  • Camels can drink up to 53 gallons or 200 liters of water in three minutes.
  • A camel eats twigs, bushes, dried grasses, leaves, thorny, and other plants such as saltbushes and cacti.

Camels are even-toed ungulates that live in the desert. We know them for being able to go a long time without water and storing fat in their humps. Some people have them as livestock for milk, meat, and hair. Living in a harsh, hot, and dry habitat, though, how do they find food? What is their diet? Let’s learn about what these desert survivors known as camels eat.

What Do Camels Eat?

What Do Camels Eat
A camel is an opportunistic feeder that will eat anything, even thorny bushes.

Camels are members of the genus Camelus and the only living member of the suborder Tylopoda. 94 percent of the camels in the world are one-humped dromedaries, also called Arabian camels. The other 6 percent are two-humped Bactrian camels. A separate species, the Wild Bactrian, is critically endangered.

Because dromedary camels are so common, “dromedary” is used interchangeably with “camel.” Also, “camelid” can refer to a wider sense including all members of the family Camelidae. That would not only be the “true camels” but New World camelids the alpaca, the llama, the alpaca, the vicuña, and the guanaco.

Camels can not only withstand harsh conditions that would kill most other mammals, but they can also survive for months. Most mammals can only survive a few days without it, but at least a few weeks without food. We can then understand that the camel’s physical hardiness will have to compensate for the lack of water in the desert.

The camel can live six to seven months without an external source of water, and that’s where the fat hump comes in. As it burns the fat for fuel, the hump gets smaller. It can drink up to 53 gallons or 200 liters of water in three minutes if it’s been deprived of water, so as to make the most of water when it manages to find it.

But what about its diet? A camel eats twigs, bushes, dried grasses, leaves, thorny, and other plants such as saltbushes and cacti. It eats almost all parts of a plant. However, they are not strictly herbivores and can become omnivores if necessary, resorting to eating carrion, bones, and fish when vegetation is scarce. The Bactrian or two-humped camel is the last truly wild species alive today.

In the zoo, the camel is given alfalfa pellets, fruits, vegetables, Bermuda hay, grains, salt blocks, and vitamin and mineral supplements. The dromedary, Arabian or one-humped camel has been domesticated and it’s found in desert caravans or in captivity. It has no wild counterparts, only feral ones that have escaped captivity.

How do camels find food?

In the desert, camels must have a diet of whatever is around them that can give them the nutrition they need. Hence, they are opportunistic foragers that can eat even thorny plants, like goats. Their digestive systems allow them to eat roughage to make use of the most plentiful vegetation.

Camels are very clever and are able to find food in harsh deserts. Each half of the split upper lip of Camels move independently, so camels can get close to the ground and eat short, sprouting grass. These flexible lips can break off and eat hard vegetation such as salty plants or thorns. Camels have even been known to consume fish.

What Do Camels Eat
A dromedary near the sea in the Oman empty quarter of the desert. Camels are opportunistic foragers that can eat even thorny plants.

How do camels eat?

Camels are herbivore, cud-chewing mammals but are not true ruminants, also known as pseudo ruminants. Ruminants all have multi-chambered stomachs, which are falsely believed to be multiple stomachs. These stomachs have different parts that are specialized for herbivore diets. Camels and all other camelids are lacking the fourth stomach compartment called the omasum, which squeezes the fluid out of the food — something which they don’t need in the desert, anyway. Instead, they have glandular sacs for specialized digestive functions. They also have large mouths with leathery lips that allow them to eat thorny plants.

A Complete List of Foods Camels Eat

Wild camels eat:

  • Dried grasses
  • Desert bushes
  • Twigs, stems, leaves, and seeds
  • Date stones
  • Saltbushes, cacti and other horny plants
  • Carrion, bones, and fish

Camels in captivity eat:

  • Alfalfa pellets
  • Carrots, apples, dates, and other fruits and vegetables
  • Bermuda hay
  • Dried grass
  • Wheat, oats, and other grains
  • Salt blocks
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements

Next Up…

Share this post on:
About the Author

Rebecca is an experienced Professional Freelancer with nearly a decade of expertise in writing SEO Content, Digital Illustrations, and Graphic Design. When not engrossed in her creative endeavors, Rebecca dedicates her time to cycling and filming her nature adventures. When not focused on her passion for creating and crafting optimized materials, she harbors a deep fascination and love for cats, jumping spiders, and pet rats.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.