x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The camel's long journey from the Arctic

The ships of the desert may have sailed the Arctic plains millions of years ago

Who could have imagined that the ancestors of today's camels traversed snow banks instead of sand dunes? After all, "the ships of the desert" have been a regional symbol for thousands of years. They were domesticated by nomads and traders in the Arabian peninsula, who relied on them for arduous desert journeys, and they remain an integral part of the culture today.

But a study published in the journal Nature this week indicates that giant camels roamed Canada's High Arctic millions of years ago, before they first appeared in hot and arid regions.

The fossils found by palaeobiologists suggest that these early camels stood about four metres high - 30 per cent larger than today's camels - but scientists believe their appearance would have been similar. Their woolly coats kept them warm, their humps stored energy during long Arctic winters and their flat feet would have been just as useful on snow as they are on sand.

Science is full of examples of adaptability. This new one is more evidence that the ability to operate under extreme circumstances is as important for a species as it is for an individual.