In Animals, Nature, Words

A camel's face in profile

This week I was sent a picture of my friend Alan, out in Qatar, holding a Wales flag and sitting atop a camel. This extraordinary creature has a unique ability to travel great distances, keep cool in extreme conditions and even go several days without drinking. But that’s nothing compared to the camel.

Among the many physiological wonders of the camel – which I won’t go into here for fear that you’ll think I just looked them up on Wikipedia – is its close relationship to the whale. That’s right, the whale.

It’s hard to think of two more different creatures, in terms of lifestyle anyway. Whales like it really wet, camels prefer the dry. Whales have huge mouths and eat plankton, camels don’t. Etc etc. But, believe it or not, the two share a common ancestor.

Camels, as you probably know, are part of the taxonomic order of even-toed ungulates – hoofed animals that balance on two toes. That in itself is impressive. Have you ever tried balancing on two toes? OK, now try it on sand with two cases of dates and a Bedouin on your back. Not so easy, is it?

Other even-toed ungulates include pigs, hippopotamuses, giraffes, bison and, if this picture on Wikipedia is anything to go by, whales. They don’t include horses and their like, rhinos or tapirs – those are all odd-toed ungulates, which means they balance on three toes, or one in the case of horses and their like. In fairness, it’s a pretty big toe, so not as impressive as it might sound.

On further investigation, it turns out that whales don’t actually balance on any toes at all. They don’t have toes. Not anymore anyway. But whales, porpoises and dolphins all evolved from the same even-toed ungulates as the hippo, which is, in fact, more closely related to the whale than it is to any other creature on earth.

Now that’s a relationship you can understand. Hippos like it wet, they have huge mouths and they’re very thick-skinned. Say what you like about a hippo, it won’t rise. If you watch a hippo for long enough, you would say it is essentially a whale waiting to happen. You can imagine a hippo growing tired of the watering hole one day and wandering into the sea in the hope of becoming a whale. It wouldn’t work, of course. Evolution takes a lot longer than that.

Just ask Alan.

Anlwc, fechgyn. Ymdrech dda.

Recent Posts

We're not around right now but send us a quick email and we'll get back you ASAP...