Camels are best known for their ability to go without water for long periods because they store metabolisable fat in their humps. The most interesting traits of a camel are actually to do with their reproduction. First let’s give the camel a proper introduction….
Camels are an extremely important livestock that are used for meat, milk, wool, transportation, their hides, dressage and racing. The most common type of camel is the dromedary camel (one hump) but there are also bactrian camels (two-humped). Today we’re discussing the dromedary. The first camels in Australia were believed to be imported for the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition. They have since been used in Australia for transport and construction of desert infrastructure and let loose once their work was finished. These released camels formed feral populations and were so successful that even after culling, an estimated 300,000 camels were still left in Australia. Australia is the only country that has a wild camel population. They are free of disease and have prime genetic diversity and because of these factors the Australian camels are exported to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Brunei and Malaysia often for the camel racing industry.
The female’s ovaries increase in weight as the she ages as well as during pregnancy. The uterus is bi-cornuate which means it is separated into two horns. The uterus forms a T in the young cow or a Y in the more mature cows. The left horn is usually much longer than the right. 99% of pregnancies occur in the left horn only. Puberty is reached at 2 years but they rarely breed until 3-4 years of age.
Camels are polyestrous which means they come into heat multiple times within a season. Signs that females are in oestrous include: mounting other females; agitated; frequent urination; swelling of the vulva; mucus discharge; move tail up and down repeatedly and stands for the male. Female camels are well known for their stubbornness when they enter heat. Once a cow enters heat she will sit until she is mated with no matter the outside environmental influences. This is problematic because camels are relied upon for their services. Camels that were used in war had to be castrated to stop this from happening.
The embryo is visible at 20-21 days and the heart beat is detectable at 22-25 days. The pregnancy lasts 15months. They give birth in a sitting position. They are in labour for 5-10hours. 6-8hours after birth the calf is capable of standing on its own.
The male’s scrotal skin thickens during sexual inactivity as the testicles shrink as they are not required. In the breeding season the scrotal skin is tight and smooth to allow for the enlarged testes. The right teste is often smaller than the left teste. Sperm production drops by half daily from Spring to Summer. Outside of the breeding season there is 27-30 million sperm in every gram of testicular tissue. In the breeding season this number increases from 36-47million sperm/gram.
The penis length ranges from 59-68cm. The penis faces backwards which means the urine passes backwards. Therefore, in order to copulate the penis needs to move from this reversed position to being forward facing. This could be likened to the hands of a clock moving from 3 O’clock to 9 O’clock.
Male camels have poll glands that secrete a dark brown substance of a pungent odour used to attract females and mark territories.
In their natural environment, camels are considered fairly poor breeders. Their main limiting breeding factor is they are seasonal breeders which is unusual for a livestock species. In a controlled environment, such as a farm, the factors that control their breeding can be manipulated to increase their breeding potential.
The camelid breeding season in Australia runs from August to February but the duration is dependant on the conditions and individual male. If the cows become pregnant outside of this period there is a high probability of embryonic mortality. Conditions that can influence breeding are: low humidity, increased rainfall and low temperature. In a season a bull will service 20-50 cows.
Usually camels are usually submissive and easy to handle but during the rutting season they become aggressive towards camels and humans and they lose their appetite. They foam at the mouth, grind their teeth, stomp their feet, urinate, thump their tail against their penis and infalte their dulla. The dulla, also referred to as the palatine diverticulum, is the soft palate and the male camel inflates and dangles it out of the mouth. The dulla is a display of dominance to the males and shows the females they are the best potential mate.
Clay Walker, Camel dulla, viewed 06.02.17, http://www.digitaljournal.com/science/four-amazing-facts-to-know-about-camels/article/380661