Overview of the different types of mammals that have humps.
The first image that comes to most people’s mind when thinking about hump-backed animals is a camel. However there are many different species that share the camel’s characteristic physical feature. The hump on each of these animals serves a different purpose and is an important survival mechanism for them whether they live in a steamy jungle or traverse across a sandy desert.
The hump of the dromedary camel, or Arabian camel, can store 80 pounds of fat. When no water or food is available in the desert, a dromedary’s body coverts the fat into usable water and fuel. This ability is what allows them to cover as much as 100 miles in one day without water. Once they do reach drinkable water, it only takes a dromedary 13 minutes to sponge up 30 gallons. These Arabian camels hardly ever sweat, so they can conserve the water they drink and moisture from vegetation they eat for a long time.
Unlike its one-humped Arabian cousin, the Bactrian camel has two humps. Their humps function in the same fashion as the dromedary’s with one notable exception. Bactrian humps become floppy and look like an empty bag when their fat stores get used up. They can soak up large quantities of water quickly too. The Bactrian live in the rocky deserts of Central and East Asia and are exposed to temperature extremes of 20-degrees below freezing in the winter and well over 100-degrees in the summer.
The hump on the back of the bison is made up of muscles attached to long vertebrae. While camels use humps to store water, bison use their hump and their massive head to plow through snow. Bison sweep their head from side-to-side to clear a path for their 1,000 to 2,000 pound body to trod along. Bison have been around since prehistoric times. Despite their large size, bison can run in excess of 30 miles-per-hour and change directions quickly to out-maneuver predators.
Also known as Brahman cattle or humped cattle, zebu are the only bovine species that are able to tolerate the humid jungles in South Asia. The zebu uses the fat storage in their hump to provide them with water and energy just like camels. The zebu is disease and parasite resistant as well as much smaller than most cattle. Typical bovine weigh twice as much as a zebu. The average zebu is only 34 to 42 inches tall. This compact size is believed to be the reason they can thrive in their tropical habitat.