The Paris Camel is Just Plain Dumb

September 29, 2010

Many thanks to Mark Evans of the New Walk Museum, Leicester, for this photograph of yet another camel skeleton, this one from the MNHN in Paris, France:


Head and neck of Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) in right lateral view. Photograph by Mark Evans.


This is especially interesting because it’s our first Bactrian camel — the Cambridge Camel and the Oxford camel are both dromedaries.  I’d wondered whether one species might have a better articulating cervical skeleton than the other, but it seems there is little or nothing to choose between them.

Also of note in this photo is the juvenile camel giraffe in the background, which has thoughtfully been mounted with its nuchal ligament in place.  It’s interesting to see how this ligament has branches that insert separately on the neural spines of all seven cervical vertebrae.  Note, too, that the intervertebral cartilage seems to have been left in place.  This would be good to see in the flesh …  sigh … another reason to revisit Paris, the most hostile city in the world.

Getting back to the adult dromedary in the foreground, here’s a zoom into the joint between the second and third cervicals, with the background smoothed out between them so that you can more easily see the gape between the centra:


Articulated cervical vertebrae 2 and 3 of Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) in right lateral view. Photograph by Mark Evans.


And remember that, once more, the posture adopted for the skeletal mount is much less strongly flexed than the habitual posture in life.  And other postures also adopted in life are more extreme still:


Male dromedary camels (Camelus dromedarius) in rut, with extended necks. Photograph by Gordon Grigg.


This photograph, kindly provided by Gordon Grigg of the University of Queensland, shows typical rutting behaviour of dromedary camels, which he observed closely for his recent paper on the role of strategic hypothermia in reproductive success (Grigg et al. 2009).  The more distant of the two camels is in a truly ridiculous pose.  And it’s ever siller when we bear in mind that necks lie: knowing what we do about the trajectory of the cervical vertebral column within the fleshy neck of tetrapods, it seems likely that the cervical skeletons of these animals were posed something like this:

If you compare these postures with the one that I photoshopped in the Cambridge Camel post, you’ll see that these are more extreme.  I ought to ‘shop the Cambridge camel vertebrae into this pose some time and see just how dumb it looks.

But of course, this may not be as extreme as camel neck poses get.  A few times in recent articles and comments, we’ve alluded to the camel-neck illustration from Kent Stevens’s 2005 talk to the German Research Group on Sauropod Biology at the Sauriermuseum in Aathal, Switzerland.  For those who don’t want to download the complete set of slides, here is that illustration:

We don’t know the provenance of this picture — or, given the low resolution — even whether it’s a photograph or a drawing.  But if it’s real, it’s … stunning.

Anyone know where it’s from?  [Update: see Jerry Harris’s comment below.]


  • Grigg, Gordon, Lyn Beard, Birgit Dörges, Jürgen Heucke, Jocelyn Coventry, Alex Coppock and Simon Blomberg.  2009.  Strategic (adaptive) hypothermia in bull dromedary camels during rut; could it increase reproductive success?  Biology Letters 5:853-856, first published online 15 July 2009.  doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0450

24 Responses to “The Paris Camel is Just Plain Dumb”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chris Rowan, JP – Research Lab. JP – Research Lab said: The Paris Camel is Just Plain Dumb: Many thanks to Mark Evans of the New Walk Museum, Leicester, for this photogra… […]

  2. Heinrich Mallison Says:

    may I remind you of Gordon Dzemski and Andreas Christian?


    They have, I am pretty sure, good data on camel intervertebrate discs and neck mobility, including vids and dissection data.

  3. Heinrich Mallison Says:

    check figure 12 in this one :

    Click to access funktionsmorphologische%20analysen.pdf

    the caption says: dorsoventral range of motion of n=9 living camels. Arithmetic average of angles.


  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    Oh, man. I have got to learn to read German. I mean, beyond the “Entshuldigen Sie, bitte: wo ist die Stassenbahnhaltestelle?” level.

  5. dmaas Says:

    Heinrich: fantastic links! Even has blender files!

  6. Darren Naish Says:

    The mounted skeleton (with nuchal ligament) in the background of the photo at top is not that of a camel – I think it’s a juvenile giraffe.

  7. MarK Evans Says:

    Yep, That a juvenile giraffe all right.

  8. Dzemski’s work looks great and I, too, wish I could read it!

    That camel skull shown has some weird (pointy, upper) teeth.. in gap between molars and front teeth.
    I looked online to compare skulls of arabian and bactrian camels and it was only the arabian dromedaries that showed such pointy teeth there. So now I am confused.. whatever the skeleton is, is the skull really bactrian?

    I also read, in my searching, that wild and domesticated bactrians are quite different and that bactrian/dromedary hybrids were/are deliberately produced. it would be interesting to compare their skeletons..

  9. Heinrich Mallison Says:

    I’ll have to kick Gordon’s ass so he finally publishes the rest, but much is already contained in the paper with Andreas Christian discussing necks of sauropods. Or papers… I don’t recall. I’ll mail them for info and post here once I have a reply.

  10. Darren Naish Says:

    Armadillozenith: all camels naturally possess very large, pointed canines, but in domestic animals (of both species) the canines are typically broken off/filed down. As you might imagine, camels can produce horrible bites when they have these teeth; camel bites (typically to the arms) are very common among camel-handlers.

  11. Mike Taylor Says:

    Yes, there’s lots of good stuff in the two already-published papers I know of, Dzemsky and Christian (2007) and Christian and Dzemski (2007). But it’s apparent from the figures in the dissertation that the published work doesn’t by any means exhaust it.

    By all means report back on what Dzemski says; but of course he’s more than welcome to comment here directly. It would be great to have his much-more-knowledgeable perspective on these issues.

  12. We don’t know the provenance of this picture — or, given the low resolution — even whether it’s a photograph or a drawing. But if it’s real, it’s … stunning.

    Anyone know where it’s from?

    It’s from the reference I sent you a few days ago:

    Gauthier-Pilters, H., and Dagg, A.I. 1981. The Camel: Its Evolution, Ecology, Behavior, and Relationship to Man. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 208 pp.

    …specifically Fig. 29.

  13. […] The Paris Camel is Just Plain Dumb […]

  14. William Miller Says:

    Has anyone published on the soft-tissues of long-necked birds (goose, cormorant, anhinga…) and how they affect neck motion?

  15. Mike Taylor Says:

    “Has anyone published on the soft-tissues of long-necked birds (goose, cormorant, anhinga…) and how they affect neck motion?”

    You would thinks someone must have, but I’ve not come across the relevant papers. The best I know of is Dzemski and Christian’s (2007) paper on ostrich necks and their implications for sauropods, which mentions cartilage but only as a very minor point in a much broader study.

    Anyone know better?

  16. I uploaded one of our x-ray collages from the living standing camel “natasha” of the Tierpark Hagenbeck on my commercial site. The pictures are taken back in 2006. Maybe it is helpful to determine the cervical column on this highly dorsal flexed camel necks. Do not be surprised that “Pferd”(Horse) is written on the pictures.
    go to:

    Mike, a second opinion from me to the column course in the camel necks on the picture of G.Grigg:

    Hope we have soon good xrays (ROMS) or something from animals in extrem flexed positions.

    And Heiner, we will meet us in Flenburg on 19. November! :-)

  17. Mike Taylor Says:

    Many thanks for these, Gordon (or do you prefer Gordo?) I accept your more moderate repositioning of the cervical vertebral column within the necks of the camels in Grigg’s photos. The X-ray is very interesting: although it’s hard to make out detail, one thing that’s apparent is that the condyles do not even reach, let alone embed in, the cotyles of the vertebrae in front. Very unexpected if we were looking at the bones alone, but a good match for the Cambridge, Oxford and Paris mounted skeletons.

  18. “Also of note in this photo is the juvenile camel in the background, which has thoughtfully been mounted with its nuchal ligament in place.”

    Mike, “Gordon” is quit right.
    Back in 2006 I have taken some good pictures of the giraffe skeleton in the background of Marks photo from the amazing collection of the MNHN in Paris.

    Yes it is an amazing skeleton with fully Lig. nuchae and intervertebral discs in place. The Lig. nuchae first task is to block the movement of the neck in ventral direction. The Lig. flavum between the processus of each vertebrae stores kinetic energy and releases it again for the dorsoventral movement. My research shows that the neck of giraffe and camel are flexible fixed with these to ligaments in dorsoventral direction.

    We know the average thickness of the disks between the vertebrae of camels, giraffes, cattle and horses on dead animals but not in vivo.
    I have no doubt that the shown posture of the camel from “Gauthier-Pilters, H., and Dagg, A.I.” is possible. Everybody with some patient can observe it in zoos.
    I hope we will light up some details of the neck movement with the xromm technology by Elizabeth Brainerd and the guys of the Brown University.

    But I am afraid that “our” animals are to big for the sensors…

    David maas, I work almost exclusively with Blender. Some measurement stuff in Rhino but it´s a little “old school”. Blender ist now in Beta 2.5 and realy cool for some nice 3D-Work: Animation with fluidsimulation, nice physics and of course fire and smoke. For my scientific stuff its easy to handle, good to programm “apps” with Phyton and, you know, free!

  19. dr.kamal Says:

    Is any research deals about the skeleton of domestic goose(Gray gray)and its morphogenesis?

  20. dmaas Says:

    encountered this image of a giraffe and thought it might interest you:

  21. […] (Of course, here at SV-POW!, we have previous with camels: the Cambridge camel, all the camels, the Oxford camel, the Paris camel) […]

  22. Abdul K Says:

    Hello Gordon,

    I read your article and you have discussed an interesting issue. I’m from Somalia which is the original home of the dromedary camel. We, Somalis, domesticated the animal more than 3,000 years ago and today there are over 6 million camels in Somali Peninsula (Somalia, Djibouti, parts of Ethiopia and Kenya).

    The camels pose in many complex ways when fighting for domination over a herd, giving the winner superior access to female camels for reproduction.

    In Somali culture we usually keep only one dominant male for the herd and the rest are castrated and later exported to the Middle East.

    However, fights always break out when different herds owned by different families meet in certain grassing areas.

    When the bull spots his rival from another herd, they normal rub themselves on trees and bushes…then they start extending their inflatable dulla and start making loud noise and foam from their mouths.

    After that they lower their necks and make it very straight and start charging their opponents. It is only then if the opposition doesn’t flee they produce what you have posted above…

    That’s when they start biting and wrestling each others until one is chased away….the battle is not won yet and the winner must start getting the females to submit to him by often chasing them until they are exhausted.

    The neck position gets more curvy depending on how tall the male is and his opponent…they will try to out do each others. The more its curved the other for the opponent to twist his neck around his rival and get him into submission….

    I have about 1,700 camels in Somalia so I know this :)

    The camels do know the difference between a distant relative and a complete stranger. Bulls don’t normally care if they going to challenge them for power, sometimes they expel their own sons. The mothers are different and are very protective of their children but until certain age. Male bulls don’t care about newly born babies, they just mate and protect their herd from rival males not against predators or humans but female camel will attack even humans unless she knows you.

  23. Mike Taylor Says:

    Interesting stuff, Abdul, thanks for commenting.

  24. Abdul Says:


    Any time and thanks for the great post and information. Very educational indeed.

    From the picture you posted, I can tell the male closer to us is the more dominant and alpha male. I am certain he most definitely won this fight from experience.

    The way I can tell this is because dominant bulls are normally slimmer around the waist area, their have darker fur and more mature and probably shaped hump.

    The further one is younger bull and probably fought less battles.

    This tells me that closer bull has more experience, more fit and more aggressive. This is why also his pose is slightly more steep.

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