About this blog...

Here you will find information, musings, and pictures about life, the natural world and writing.

Monday, July 5, 2010

In defense of camel aesthetics

I've always thought camels are under appreciated. There's that statement meant to be a slur: "a camel is a horse put together by a committee". True, but that's a compliment, not a slur, on two levels. First, committees tend to make better decisions than individuals, as various studies have shown. (You'll have to look up the references yourself.) Second, a camel is far better designed than a horse to survive and remain useful in an arid climate.

Zoo visitors tend to look at camels and describe them as ugly. I don't think so. In fact, I have a herd of plastic, wood, and straw "camels of Christmas" that come out every year. I admire a big ceramic camel in the Asian Art section of the Portland Art Museum and make a point of visiting it.

I've noticed that camels are often depicted with head thrown back and mouth open. At a recent visit to Oakland Zoo I had a "duh!" moment watching this. A big male camel sniffed the rear end of a female and threw his head back, mouth open. Classic "flehmen"!

Males of many species behave similarly. They are tasting the females urine with a special organ in the roof of their mouth to determine whether she's coming into estrus. Lions do it, elephants do it, horses do it. Read about it Wikipedia. Other strong or unusual scents may trigger the response as well and not just in males. There's even a rumor that humans have a rudimentary vomeronasal organ, even though we don't curl our lips.

In camels, flehmen makes for a dramatic pose that apparently artists and their patrons appreciate. Perhaps the antique ceramic figure I admire was created by a person with a lot more experience with camels than I've ever had.

Picture by Nancy Parker

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've long wondered about that camel pose, thanks for the explanation!

another fan of the Museum's ceramic camel...

Post a Comment