Llamas (botanically termed; lama glama) are part of the camel family, although they have no hump. Other members of this family are the alpaca, guanaco, and vicuna. Though most people have only heard of llamas and alpacas, which are even often mixed up for each other despite their few distinct features.
Llamas are said to date back 40 million years to the central plains of North America, they became extinct there during the Ice Age. Only surviving generations of Llamas are the ones that migrated to South America and became prominent in the Andean Mountains.
Their domestication began about 3 to 5 thousand years (making them one of the oldest domesticated animals in the world). The Inca Indians used llamas as beasts of burden, and as a source of clothing, food, and fuel.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, llamas were imported back into North America. Today there currently just about 350 thousand llamas in the United States and Canada.
General Description About Llama
Llamas are agile but calm and social creatures, which interact in herds but can bond with other livestock such as sheep. Their unique adapted feet give them a sure footing fit for diverse terrain types. Their feet are two-toed with a broad, leathery pad on the bottom.
Llamas have scent glands on the low outside of their rear legs and between their toes (metatarsal scent glands; said to be their body alarm system and temperature regulatory mechanism) and another gland found on the inner surface of their rear leg (tarsal glands; what llamas use to identify individuals within the herd).
The hair texture of a llama’s coat varies. Most with coarser guard hairs on their outer layer and soft wool in their undercoat. These largely help them adapt to diverse environments. A llama’s thick coat helps them withstand extreme cold, windy, snowing or rainy weathers. The short hair on several areas of their body, on the other hand, helps to disperse heat when in warmer atmospheres.
- The average llama heights range from 5’.5” to 6’.
- With weights from about 280-450lbs.
- They are characterized by their peculiarly curved ears, large eyes, and long necks.
- Their hairs can grow from 3 to 8 inches on the neck, back and sides. Whilst their head, underside, and legs are mostly covered with short hair.
- Llama hair is of diverse colors: White, black, brown, red, gray, spotted, and tricolor.
Behavioral Characteristics of Llama
Llamas communicate with each other via clucking, ogling, hums, as well as ear and tail movements. They have highly-pitched alarm calls when startled by impending danger, quite similar to the sounds of tropical birds.
The hums they make signify that they are either uncomfortable, overheated, distraught, or just worried and calling out to their young. The difference between the hums is interpreted based on the pitch used. The males make ogling sounds (similar to gurgling) when mating or as he approaches a female, or clucking sounds when flirting or just meeting a new llama.
They stretch very tall with their head held high, whilst rapidly flicking their tail to express displeasure. This is a characteristic common to pregnant females attempting to bypass an approaching male.
When provoked, llamas are known to spit at each other in self-defense. They posture their heads high enough, laying back their ears before spitting. This is usually only directed at other llamas in the herd. Although they have been occasionally reported to spit at a human if they are been mistreated or to express disdain. This spitting is how they’ve been known to enforce order in a herd, or how they express dominance.
Diet and Habitat
Llamas are herbivores, feeding on grasses, low shrubs, and mountain vegetation. Although they can derive water from the food they consume, they still need access to freshwater sources for sustained survival.
They have just three-compartment stomachs, compared to the standard four stomachs of ruminants, yet they are still classified under this category. They can be seen regurgitating their food, even after hours of initial intake, after it has been partially digested in the rumen (the llama’s first stomach). The partially-digested food (cud), is chewed again to aid in the digestive process for full digestion.
Native breeds of llama reside across the Andes mountains, others along the Andean highlands (the natural habitat of the Llama), specifically the Altiplano of southeast Peru and western Bolivia.
Llamas serve as multi-purpose animals. Their hides have been used to make sandals, whilst their meats were dried and eaten by the Andean Indians. Their hairs have been used in making handicrafts, ropes, and clothing for years. Even llama dung has been found useful as fuel for cooking fires and warmth.
Other uses of llamas include:
- The Fiber and wool derived from them can be used for clothing and leather accessories making.
- They have been found efficient as pack animals/ beasts of burdens for trekking or hiking expeditions.
- They are effective Guard Animals; as sheepherders have found them even more effective than guard dogs for protecting sheep herds from predators.
- Because they are such intelligent creatures, some find them beneficial as pets and companion animals.
Although llamas can live up to 30 years, their average lifespan has been set at 20 years. Female Llamas can start breeding at 18 to 24 months. While the males only become reliable breeders when they fully mature at about 3 years of age.
Female llamas generally ovulate within 24 to 36 hours after mating. The newborns can weigh from 18 to 40 pounds and begin walking just after about an hour from birth. Nursing begins just about the next hour.
- Their gestation period takes about 350 days
- Baby Llamas are usually born one at a time (scarcely as twins).
- Llamas give birth mostly in the day time.
- Newborns are weaned after 6 months from birth. Before which they nurse on milk from the mother.
- Males mature and are ready to breed at 2 to 2.5 years of age, while the Females mature and are ready to breed right from 18 to 24 months.
- Females are induced ovulators and can be bred year-round.
5 Different Types of Llamas
Though the modes of classification of Ilama differ depending on what distinguishing features are in focus. For instance, Llamas are generally classified under just two main genres based on their wool types, which are recognized as the Q’ara and Ch’aku (or T’hampulli).
The Q’ara are the light-wool type with long and slim bodies and have lower quality fibers, but possess a greater aptitude for meat production; while the heavy-wool type, Ch’aku, have shorter bodies but possess a higher potential for fiber production.
Other than these two groupings, other breed descriptions have also been developed to distinguish Llama breeds based on their other characteristics and bodily features. Such classifications include:
1. Classic Llama
Botanically termed Ccara Sullo, these traditional llamas have bodies that are much larger than the others. They have lesser fiber in their heads, necks, and legs. They also have long hairs on the coats of their bodies giving them a saddle-like appearance, and neck hairs bearing resemblance to a mane. They’re named “classic” because of the look of their double-coated fleece and a fine undercoat. Which would look less dense if combed.
Classic llamas have been known to live through extreme climates: cold, hot, or humid temperatures. Although llamas that have been shaved don’t do well in cold weather as their hair is what keeps them warm.
It is thus advised that llamas are only sheared in warm enough seasons. Classic Llamas can also be distinguished by their distinct ears, which have a rounded tip rather than the usual spear-shape.
2. Wooly Llama
Though smaller than many other types of llamas, the wooly llama has strong wool covering their entire body; particularly their head, neck, and ears. Their fibers are considered quite kinky and thick and mixed with a minimum number of guard hairs.
Many wooly llamas have fibers that of the same quality as an ordinary alpaca, and because the undercoat is missing on these animals, their consistent fleece is usually just single-layered.
3. Medium Llama
The Medium Llama is identified by their long fibers all over their bodies including their neck region, but with the exemption of their heads, legs, and ears; which have much shorter fibers.
Experts themselves often find it hard to distinguish between Medium and Wooly Llama. Major distinguishing features being their double layered fleece, with lengthy and rough guard hairs extending with their undercoat. Oft these types of Llamas are the result of cross-breeding wooly and traditional Llamas.
4. Suri Llama
Suri Llamas are an extremely rare breed. Experts say that there are no more than one hundred llamas in all of Europe. Due to their low genetics pool, they are very difficult to breed even by expert breeders. Their wools are similar to the wooly llama, the only difference being that the fibers are not as fine as the wooly llamas.
The name “Suri” is attributed to its fiber structure. Their fibers hang in defined locks from their skin and are of diverse types; most common of which is the twisted or corkscrew pencil locks.
5. Vicuna Llamas
The Vicuna llamas are native to the Andes Mountains of South America, their coats are orange-colored with patches of white. Vicuna llamas will not eat if kept in captivity, meaning they must be released back into the wild after they are shaved.
The wool from these llamas are extremely rare and valuable, they have been used to make some of the softest wools on the planet. It takes up to 30 llamas to make just one coat, and these Llamas can be shaved only once in three years.
Fun Facts About Llamas
In conclusion, here are a few fun facts about Llamas;
- A pack of llamas is called a herd.
- The males are known as sires.
- The females are called dams.
- The baby llamas are called crias.
- Llamas fibers are fireproof.
- Llamas come in multiple colors: brown, grey, black, and beige.
- They have multiple coat patterns: solid, spotted, or various other patterns.
- Llamas are very large animals, oft measuring up to six feet, weighing up to 450 pounds (250 pounds for smaller breeds).
- Llamas are sociable animals; they travel usually in groups of about 20 other llamas.
- Llamas can spit on one another when having misunderstandings (though rarely on humans, just if they are provoked or feel threatened).
- Llamas live as old as 20 to 30 years.
- They are strong enough to walk at least 12 miles while carrying a 100-pound heavy load on their backs.
- They are intelligent and easy to train, but stubborn at times (they can refuse to carry loads they deem too heavy and won’t move until the weight has been reduced).
- Llamas can run up to 35 miles an hour.
- Llamas have no hooves, only soft, leathery pads on their feet, along with two toes with toenails.