The Mystery of Alice the Camel

Camels are part of the family Camelidae, whose other members include llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos. They’re in the order Artiodactyla, or even-toed ungulates, whose weight is borne by the third and fourth toes.

Horses are from the family Equidae in the order Perissodactyla, or odd-toed ungulates. Their weight is borne by the third toe alone.

Therefore, if Alice the Camel loses all her humps, she cannot be a horse (of course!).

So what is Alice?

Bactrian Camel (J. Patrick Fischer CC-BY-SA)

Camels evolved from a now extinct species of Camelid in North America. They migrated to Asia around two or three million years ago, and from there to Africa. Those that survive in Asia are Bactrian camels (with two humps), while those in south-west Asia and Africa are dromedaries, with one hump.

So in evolutionary terms, Alice started in North America, moved to Asia (with two humps), and then moved to Africa, losing a hump in the process.

Camelid migration in the Eocene.  Blue is Camels, Red is Llamas & Alpacas (Tony37 – CC-BY-SA)

Llamas and alpacas, while having no humps, did not evolve from dromedary camels. They came directly from the North American ancestor species, and moved south instead of north, into South America.

So if Alice the Dromedary Camel did not evolve into a llama or alpaca, and she can’t be a horse, what is she?



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