Bactrian camels were commonly used on the Silk Road to carry goods. Because they could be used in nearly all terrains – from high mountains and cold, open plains to inhospitable deserts – they were indispensable to many traders and remain a big part of Silk Road lore.
Bactrian camels are camels with two humps and two coats of hair. Bactrian camels are capable of carrying 600 pounds. They are native to Central Asia, and a few wild ones still live there. A typical bactrian camel stands six feet tall at the hump. They can weigh as much as half a ton and seem no worse for wear when temperatures drop to -20 degrees F. The fact that they can endure extreme hot and extreme cold temperatures and travel for long periods of time without water made them ideal caravan animals.
Bactrian camels can go a week without water and a month without food. A thirsty camel can drink 25 to 30 gallons of water at one go. For protection against sandstorms, Bactrian camels have two sets of eyelids and eyelashes. The extra eyelids can wipe away sand like windshield wipers. Their nostrils can shrink to a narrow slit to keep out blowing sand.
The camels’ humps store energy in the form of fat. Each hump can hold 100 pounds of fat and can reach a height of 18 inches. A camel can survive for weeks without food by drawing on the fat from their humps for energy. When a camel doesn’t get enough to eat, it loses the fat and the humps shrink and start to droop.
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