Thursday, May 10, 2012

Two Humps or One

The other day I poked some fun at human ears in a post on Borderzone (“Blank Simian Rote”). The subject has a serious aspect, to be sure. Ears illustrate that nature cares nought for aesthetics when it conflicts with efficient functionality—something that even a quite cursory foray into biology confirms. Aesthetics? The question Nature answers is, “Does it work?” Its answer to “Yes, but is it art?” is always, “What is that?” Which tells me that we’re transcendental beings.

An even more delightful example of Nature’s functional approach to “design” is the camel’s back. These come in onesies and twosies, the first carried by the Dromedary the other by the Bactrian camel; both belong to the genus Camelus. The very fact that two species exist, one with a single, one with two humps, is the sort of thing that pleases Brigitte: duality rules. Dromedaries are at home in northern Africa and are in the majority (14 million); Bactrians live in China’s Gobi desert and in Mongolia (1.4 million). Most of Camelus is domesticated—telling me that fossil fuels do not rule everywhere.

The camel’s hump collects and concentrates fatty tissue, evidently to keep camels cool. Living in hot desert climates, they need far less insulation—and indeed, when it is present, they get too hot; but they still need the fat for other vital purposes. So, what to do? Why not put it all in one place, or two—and high up, out of the way. 

Are there humpless camels? Not camels. But there are camelids. That word comes from Camelidae, the Family above the Genus. Humplessness came first. Among the camelids are such creatures as llamas, vicuñas, and alpacas native to South America; they’re aesthetically much more pleasing to the human eye; not a hump in sight.
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Picture credits to Wikipedia, here. I do love that Wikipedia Commons...

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