You probably think of camels as Middle Eastern animals, but scientists now believe that their giant woolly ancestors originated in the wilds of the Arctic and were perfectly happy to dwell in the snow and cold of those northern climes. According to a study published in 2013 in Nature Communications, researchers found evidence that camels lived on Ellesmere Island, 750 miles (1,207 km) north of the Yukon.
Scientists on a Canadian Museum of Nature expedition concluded that the Arctic camel was about 30 percent larger than today’s distant desert cousins. They theorized that camels originated in North America about 45 million years ago, and at some point crossed into Eurasia and migrated south. They also made their way to South America, where they evolved into llamas and alpacas.
Camels in the Arctic:
- According to expedition leader Natalia Rybczynski, several traits of modern camels would have come in handy for the High Arctic camel. “For example, the wide, flat feet that are useful for walking on sand could also have been useful for walking on snow.”
- “In addition,” she said, “the hump serves as fat storage, so this could have been essential for an animal that would have to survive a long, dark, cold winter.”
- Rybczynski added that “camels have very large eyes that could also be suitable for seeing in low light,” which are typical conditions in the Arctic.