Do camel farts contribute to global warming?

By Seriously Science | April 10, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/mr_angeloux

Photo: flickr/mr_angeloux

We know that methane from cow farts is a greenhouse gas and a contributor to global warming. But how about farts from camelids (camels, llamas, and alpacas), which have a similar type of digestive system? In this study, the researchers set out to measure methane emission by camelids. To do so, they built “respiration chambers” for the animals (5 alpacas, 6 llamas, and 5 camels) — basically, sealed rooms that allowed the scientists to control and measure the air coming in and out. Then they waited for the camels/llamas/alpacas to fart. Turns out that camelids produce less methane overall than cows, probably due to their lower food intake. Still, the next time you’re feeling bad about your job, just be glad it doesn’t involve setting up camel fart chambers.

Methane Emission by Camelids

“Methane emissions from ruminant livestock have been intensively studied in order to reduce contribution to the greenhouse effect. Ruminants were found to produce more enteric methane than other mammalian herbivores. As camelids share some features of their digestive anatomy and physiology with ruminants, it has been proposed that they produce similar amounts of methane per unit of body mass. This is of special relevance for countrywide greenhouse gas budgets of countries that harbor large populations of camelids like Australia. However, hardly any quantitative methane emission measurements have been performed in camelids. In order to fill this gap, we carried out respiration chamber measurements with three camelid species (Vicugna pacos, Lama glama, Camelus bactrianus; n = 16 in total), all kept on a diet consisting of food produced from alfalfa only. The camelids produced less methane expressed on the basis of body mass (0.32±0.11 L kg−1 d−1) when compared to literature data on domestic ruminants fed on roughage diets (0.58±0.16 L kg−1 d−1). However, there was no significant difference between the two suborders when methane emission was expressed on the basis of digestible neutral detergent fiber intake (92.7±33.9 L kg−1 in camelids vs. 86.2±12.1 L kg−1 in ruminants). This implies that the pathways of methanogenesis forming part of the microbial digestion of fiber in the foregut are similar between the groups, and that the lower methane emission of camelids can be explained by their generally lower relative food intake. Our results suggest that the methane emission of Australia’s feral camels corresponds only to 1 to 2% of the methane amount produced by the countries’ domestic ruminants and that calculations of greenhouse gas budgets of countries with large camelid populations based on equations developed for ruminants are generally overestimating the actual levels.”

Related content:
NCBI ROFL: When life gives you camels, make sausage.
NCBI ROFL: Beans, beans, the musical fruit…
To fart or not to fart: that is the question.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals, ha ha poop
  • Steve

    No, they don’t contribute. Respiration, decay and digestive byproducts are simply processes that take the carbon from carbohydrates and convert them to carbon bearing gasses. Methane oxidizes, slowly or quickly, into carbon dioxide and water. These are absorbed by plants to produce more carbohydrates, which in turn are consumed by other creatures, be they ruminants, omnivores, or micro organisms in the decay process. It’s called the carbon cycle, and it’s what keeps us all alive. It’s simply nature recycling carbon. Man is the creature that breaks the cycle. We dig or pump up ancient carbon reserves, in the form of fossil fuels, burn them, and thus increase the amount of carbon in the carbon cycle. Everything else just re-uses what’s already there. Yes, even camels.

    • JimthePE

      If you are talking about wild or free-grazing animals you’re probably right. However, modern agriculture converts fossil fuels to fertilizer to feed more animals than the land could naturally support.

      Then, instead of returning it to the soil to nourish the plants we get our food from, we process our fecal matter in treatment plants. The effluent is dumped into rivers and the solids are landfilled, necessitating more fertilizer.

      • Steve

        Yes and no. The fertilizer is usually ammonia based, obtained (in China) by mixing natural gas and compressed air, then burning it. A certain percentage of the nitrogen in the air converts to nitrates. It isn’t carbon being added to the soil, it’s ammonia. The greenhouse gasses produced by that combustion add to the carbon in the cycle. The cattle don’t.

        • JimthePE

          Perhaps the cattle themselves don’t, but the cattle industry does.

          • Steve

            The whole industry farts? :)

            Seriously though, agriculture in general is petroleum powered, whether they’re growing cattle feed or anything else.

          • JimthePE

            Ever been downwind of a dairy farm? “The whole industry farts” is an apt description.

            Still, beef and dairy are inefficient sources of protien, in terms of lbs produced per ton of feed used, and therefore inefficient in food produced per metric ton carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCDE).

          • Steve

            Yes, chickens are a far more efficient way to produce edible protein. Which has nothing to do with the question at hand. The question is, do ruminants (including camelids and cattle) contribute to greenhouse gas buildup in the atmosphere. The answer is no, all they do is recycle the carbon already in the carbon cycle. Only man, and volcanoes, actually add carbon to the cycle, and thus increase the actual levels of carbon based greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

    • http://appropedia.org/ Chris Watkins

      Incorrect. Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas with a half-life of 7 years in the atmosphere before oxidizing.

      • Steve

        Whether the methane comes straight from the digestive tract, as a result of manure decomposing, or just dead grass decaying into dirt, it’s still methane. Swamp gas, sewer gas, bubbling up from a cesspool or sewage treatment plant, venting from a compost heap or coming straight from the cow, it’s all just carbon in the cycle being recycled.

        • http://appropedia.org/ Chris Watkins

          True up to a point – but not all decomposition is anaerobic (methane-producing). That makes an enormous difference.

        • JimthePE

          But our food choices affect how much CH4 is emitted. Looking at the whole supply line from fertilizer to feed to farts to the dinner table, would camel burgers produce less CO2 equivalent than beef burgers?

        • Steve

          Methane may have an extended half life compared to Carbon Dioxide. During that same perood the carbon from CO2 will be recycled many times. But whichever form the carbon is in, it’s still in the cycle. It doesn’t “contribute” to greenhouse gas any more in one form or the other, in that it isn’t “new” carbon being added (unlike the burning of fossil fuels). The entire issue is an intentional distraction favored by the petroleum industry to make “man made” impact seem small. Man made impact is the only real contributor, other than volcanic activity. “Studies” and issues like these are a smoke screen, in every sense of the phrase.

          • http://appropedia.org/ Chris Watkins

            Steve, I don’t follow your argument. “But whichever form the carbon is in, it’s still in the cycle.”
            Right, the total C is unchanged, but it’s in a form with a vastly greater GWP (global-warming potential) than CO2.

  • Tninches

    I call BS! Studies have shown that cow BELCHES, not farts, produce the most methane.

    • http://appropedia.org/ Chris Watkins

      Yep – doesn’t affect the conclusion, as the methane is still methane, but “cow farts” is a journalistic choice of colorful language over accuracy.

  • Steve

    I’d be far more concerned with the hot air coming off of the people arguing over climate change than I would over this sort of thing. Whether it’s camelids or cattle, sheep or shetland, mice or microbes, all they do is recycle what’s already there. Like politicians, they contribute nothing new.

  • Headbangerguy

    Hey, does anybody know why camels are called the ships of the desert?

  • Shock

    rubbish

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