Can Camels Eat Cactus?
We have the Answer and the Science behind it!

Ever wondered what camels eat in the desert? Keep reading to find out!

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Jimena Bolívar

April 04, 2021


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Introduction

Everyone knows a few things about camels; they live in the desert, they store fat in their humps, and they can go weeks without food or water.

But they have to eat eventually, right? And seeing as there aren’t many culinary options in the desert, it makes sense that everyone’s favorite desert herbivore would snack on the most recognizable of desert vegetation.

Camels can indeed eat cacti. After all, the cacti’s ability to withstand blistering temperatures and survive long periods without water makes it the perfect meal for camels. Camels mouths are lined with papillae and nodules that make eating thorny cacti possible but not pain-free.

Picture of a Camel

So how are camels able to eat cacti?

Camels can eat cacti because of their unique capabilities which have come about due to adaptation!

Camels eat cacti because they have special mouths that can cater to the cactus without causing internal damage. The animal is a ruminant with special digestive capabilities that make the task a whole lot easier. Apart from that, since camels have little choice except cacti, they have adapted to eat cacti.

Camels are able to eat cacti without much ado. This behavior can stump you and make you wonder how can any animal ever eat such a potentially harmful plant. It is laced with thorns after all.

Did You Know?

Cacti have glochids which can cause irritation in humans when ingested. However, camels are able to deal with glochids easily because of their adaptations.

Cacti look absolutely adorable on windowsills but they aren’t the friendliest of the succulents. Their thick outer layer and spiky thorns seem to scream DO NOT TOUCH and definitely DO NOT EAT.

It seems like a mystery how camels are even able to attempt to eat these unwelcoming succulents. You might wonder whether they cause the animal any harm. You may also wonder where the camel gets the courage to eat cactus.

However, camels are able to eat cacti because of a range of reasons. Well, I’ve done the research, and it’s fascinating, to say the least.

Picture of a Small, Potted Cactus

Camel Mouths Can Handle Cacti

Any animal stuck in the desert has to have special body parts to be able to survive the issues that they will inevitably face.

Camels mouths have hard palates and are lined with hardened ridges made from keratin called papillae. Papillae serves two purposes; it protects the camel’s mouth from spiky thorns, and it guides those thorns down the camel’s throat safely.

Fun Fact!

Like papillae, our hair and nails are made from keratin.

If you know anything about the concept of adaptation, you know that animals develop characteristics that help them survive the toughest of circumstances with ease. Camels have also adapted according to their environment and inherently have the ability to do what would otherwise be unthinkable.

The mouths of camels are special with their hardened palates and ridges. These features help protect all the areas within the mouth and the neck from potential damage caused by the thorns. If they had simpler mouths, the camel would probably hurting himself in a very bad way. Moreover, he would not be able to eat anything else for a long time.

Camels are Ruminants.

Camels have a unique digestive system that is helpful in allowing them to eat cacti!

Since camels are ruminants, they also have an added capacity to digest and benefit from the nutrients within cacti. Ruminants are herbivores that acquire nutrients from plants by fermenting them in another stomach before digestion.

The camels have a multi-chambered stomach which is full of billions of bacteria that help in digestion. This special system that aids digestion allows the camel to consume cactus which would otherwise be impossible.

Normally animals are unable to digest cacti, however, camels have developed a capability of doing so easily.

Did You Know?

Other ruminants include sheep, deer and giraffes.

Camels Coexist In the Same Places As Cacti

When there is little choice, whatever options are available become attractive!

Since camel and cacti coexist in the same space, they both have the ability to withstand harsh conditions.

Vegetation is scarce in the desert and since there are little options, it makes sense for a herbivore like camels to be attracted to cacti. There is nothing else for the animal to eat.

Camels are impressive creatures who can thrive on little food and water for many days. It can keep itself alive without having to eat or drink everyday. The hump is the main location where the camel stores all food in the form of fat.

Pro-Tip

Have you ever thought of going on a trip to a desert? If you're lucky you can interact with camels and see how they actually eat food. In some countries, camel rides can be taken for leisure!

Camels are majestic creatures who are able to consume cacti and live off of the nutrients taken from the plant.

Did you know other animals also eat cacti?

Surprisingly, camels are not the only animals that eat cacti.

Peccaries eat cacti due to their high-water content, and in some countries experiencing drought, farmers mix cacti into their cattle feed. I’m sure you didn’t know that livestock could also be feasting on cacti. However, that is the case. If there isn’t anything else to provide to animals, cacti can do the job.

Another Shocking Consumer of Cacti

The consumption of prickly pear cactus, also known as Nopal in Mexico, has become increasingly popular in recent years due in part to its health benefits.

Picture of Prickly Pear Cactus

In addition to being an antiviral, cactus is high in antioxidants and fiber and has been reported to regulate blood sugar and reduce cholesterol.

If you want to learn more about cactus fruit, I recommend you read our post about eating cactus fruit and prickly pear!

How to Eat Prickly Pear? Here's The Right Way to Enjoy Cactus Fruit!

Are you confused whether you can eat prickly pear or cactus fruit? Don’t worry! Read ahead to learn more about this delicious fruit!

Warning!

There are many kinds of cacti, and being able to tell between the edible and non-edible is necessary for safe consumption. Don’t be adventurous if you see a random cactus. It may throw you in a whirlwind if you’re not careful.

Fun Fact!

Dragon Fruit comes from the Hylocereus Cactus. It is a very delicious fruit that everyone should eat once in their lifetime!

Picture of Dragon Fruit

Conclusion

So there you have it, camels can and do eat cacti. They have developed features like hardened ridges and palates in their mouth which allow them to consume the thorny plant. Moreover, they have a special digestive system that aids digestion allowing them to use whatever nutrition cacti can offer them.

If you are interested in learning more about cacti, I recommend you read our post about types of cacti!

How Many Types of Cactus Are There? The Best Ones You Can Get!

Cacti are brilliant plants that can thrive without using too much water. Read ahead to learn about the different types of cacti!

Jimena Bolívar Picture

By Jimena Bolívar

Easy Succulents Founder

My name is Jimena and I'm the the founder of Easy Succulents! I'm fascinated by this wonderful plants and I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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Jimena Bolívar Picture

Jimena Bolívar

Easy Succulents Founder

My name is Jimena and I'm the the founder of Easy Succulents! I'm fascinated by this wonderful plants and I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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