This time of year, it is easy to imagine three wise men, often referred to as Magi, traveling westward, guided by the light of a new star. Although there is no reference to their mode of transportation, it is likely that they traveled with camels, a common method in the region even today.
Camels come in three types. The dromedary camel of the Middle East is one humped. The Bactrian camel is the two-humped Central Asian version. The third type is the wild Bactrian camel of northwest China and Mongolia, once thought to be feral off-spring of escapees along the Silk Road, but now genetically proven to be a separate species and the last of the wild camels. Wild dromedary camels faded out about 2,000 years ago.
Camels were domesticated nearly 4,000 years ago. It is easy to understand why taming camels was a priority. They supply man with milk, wool, leather, meat and even dung for fuel, making them a one stop shopping center.
But most importantly, they are beasts of burden with extraordinary abilities. Capable of carrying over 200 pounds of cargo, they can travel as fast and as far as a horse but do it under desert conditions. For thousands of years they have been a major method of transportation.
Arid deserts and camels seem to have evolved together. The camel has physical as well as physiological adaptations to desert life that are unknown elsewhere. Chief among these is their ability to survive for up to a week without water. Though the hump(s) store fat and not water, the metabolism of that fat produces water and energy to keep them going from oasis to oasis. When water becomes available again, they can rehydrate by drinking over 30 gallons in under 15 minutes.
Physiologically, camels are different from other mammals in several key ways. First, their red blood cells are oval rather than round. This allows the cells to pass through vessels more easily during dehydration and reduces damage to the cells when they rehydrate. Camels also can allow their body temperature to rise by as much as 11 degrees (F) from sunrise to sunset and may lose up to 25% of their body weight to dehydration. Most other animals suffer cardiac arrest at 12-14 percent.
Camels have a series adaptations that conserve water as well, helping them to lose only 1.3 liters of water a day compared to similar sized animals that lose 20-40 liters a day. Some of these adaptations include: urine so concentrated it is almost like a syrup; feces so dry it can be burned for fuel immediately after defecation; and water vapor that is resorbed in the nasal passages.
Physically, camels are well adapted to deal with the sand of the desert. Two sets of eye lashes and an extra film layer protect their eyes. Their nostrils can seal off to keep out blowing sand and their feet are large, providing firm footing on shifting sands.
With all these adaptations to sand and heat, it is curious to note that camels actually evolved on the North American continent and migrated across the Bering land bridge about the time humans crossed in the other direction.
You may see local legend, Ralphie the camel, in live Nativities during the Christmas season. If you do, stop to thank him. Because of the unique qualifications of his species, camels have provided exceptional services to the human race for thousands of years.
TAX DAY is coming! Here is a chance to do something good with a bit of your tax return and make the day less painful.
Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!
On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.
Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf.
If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho