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A llama overlooking Machu Picchu, Peru
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Camelidae
Genus: Lama
Species: L. glama
Binomial name
Lama glama
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The llama (Lama glama) is a South American camelid, widely used as a pack and meat animal by Andean cultures since pre-hispanic times. In popular culture llamas are mostly associated with the Incans and Peru.

The height of a full-grown, full-size llama is between 1.7 meters (5.5 ft) and 1.8 meters (6 ft) tall at the top of the head. They can weigh between approximately 130 kilograms (280 lb) and 200 kilograms (450 lb). At birth, a baby llama (called a cria) can weigh between 9.1 kilograms (20 lb) and 14 kilograms (30 lb). Llamas are very social animals and like to live with other llamas as a herd. Overall, the fiber produced by a llama is very soft and is naturally lanolin free. Llamas are intelligent and can learn simple tasks after a few repetitions. When using a pack, llamas can carry about 25% to 30% of their body weight for several miles.[1]

Llamas appear to have originated from the central plains of North America about 40 million years ago. They migrated to South America and Asia[citation needed] about 3 million years ago. By the end of the last ice age (10,000–12,000 years ago) camelids were extinct in North America.[1] As of 2007, there were over 7 million llamas and alpacas in South America and, due to importation from South America in the late 20th century, there are now over 100,000 llamas and 6,500–7,000 alpacas in the US and Canada.[2]



A Quechua girl and her llama in Cuzco

Although early writers compared llamas to sheep, their similarity to the camel was soon recognized. They were included in the genus Camelus along with alpaca in the Systema Naturae (1758) of Linnaeus.[3] They were, however, separated by Cuvier in 1800 under the name of llama along with the guanaco.[citation needed] Alpacas and vicuñas are in genus Vicugna. The genera Lama and Vicugna are, with the two species of true camels, the sole existing representatives of a very distinct section of the Artiodactyla or even-toed ungulates, called Tylopoda, or "bump-footed," from the peculiar bumps on the soles of their feet. The Tylopoda consists of a single family, the Camelidae, and shares the order Artiodactyla with the Suina (pigs), the Tragulina (chevrotains), the Pecora (ruminants), and the Cetancodonta (hippos and cetaceans, which belong to Artiodactyla from a cladistic if not traditional standpoint). The Tylopoda have more or less affinity to each of the sister taxa, standing in some respects in a middle position between them, sharing some characteristics from each, but in others showing special modifications not found in any of the other taxa.[citation needed]

A domestic llama.

The 19th century discoveries of a vast and previously unexpected extinct Tertiary fauna of North America, as interpreted by palaeontologists Leidy, Cope, and Marsh, aided understanding of the early history of this family.[citation needed] Llamas were not always confined to South America; abundant llama-like remains were found in Pleistocene deposits in the Rocky Mountains and in Central America. Some of the fossil llamas were much larger than current forms. Some species remained in North America during the last ice ages. North American llamas are categorized as a single extinct genus, Hemiauchenia. Llama-like animals would have been a common sight in 25,000 years ago, in modern-day California, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Missouri, and Florida.[citation needed]

The camelid lineage has a good fossil record. Camel-like animals have been traced from the thoroughly differentiated modern species back through early Miocene forms. Their characteristics became more general, and they lost those that distinguished them as camelids; hence they were classified as ancestral artiodactyls.[citation needed] No fossils of these earlier forms have been found in the Old World, indicating that North America was the original home of camelids, and that Old World camels crossed over via the Bering land bridge. The formation of the Isthmus of Panama three million years ago allowed camelids to spread to South America as part of the Great American Interchange, where they evolved further. Meanwhile, North American camelids died out at the end of the Pleistocene.[citation needed]


The following characteristics apply especially to llamas. Dentition of adults:-incisors 1/3 canines 1/1, premolars 2/2, molars 3/2; total 32. In the upper jaw there is a compressed, sharp, pointed laniariform incisor near the hinder edge of the premaxilla, followed in the male at least by a moderate-sized, pointed, curved true canine in the anterior part of the maxilla. The isolated canine-like premolar which follows in the camels is not present. The teeth of the molar series which are in contact with each other consist of two very small premolars (the first almost rudimentary) and three broad molars, constructed generally like those of Camelus. In the lower jaw, the three incisors are long, spatulate, and procumbent; the outer ones are the smallest. Next to these is a curved, suberect canine, followed after an interval by an isolated minute and often deciduous simple conical premolar; then a contiguous series of one premolar and three molars, which differ from those of Camelus in having a small accessory column at the anterior outer edge.

Names of llama body parts: 1 Ears - 2 Poll - 3 Withers - 4 Back - 5 Hip - 6 Croup - 7 Base of tail - 8 Tail - 9 Buttock - 10 Hock - 11 Metatarsal gland - 12 Heel - 13 Cannon bone - 14 Gaskin - 15 Stifle joint - 16 Flank - 17 Barrel - 18 Elbow - 19 Pastern - 20 Fetlcok - 21 Knee - 22 Chest - 23 Point of shoulder - 24 Shoulder - 25 Throat - 26 cheek or jowl - 27 Muzzle

The skull generally resembles that of Camelus, the larger brain-cavity and orbits and less developed cranial ridges being due to its smaller size. The nasal bones are shorter and broader, and are joined by the premaxilla.


  • cervical 7,
  • dorsal 12,
  • lumbar 7,
  • sacral 4,
  • caudal 15 to 20.

The ears are rather long and slightly curved inward, characteristically known as "banana" shaped. There is no dorsal hump. Feet are narrow, the toes being more separated than in the camels, each having a distinct plantar pad. The tail is short, and fibre is long, woolly and soft.

In essential structural characteristics, as well as in general appearance and habits, all the animals of this genus very closely resemble each other, so that whether they should be considered as belonging to one, two, or more species is a matter of controversy among naturalists.

The question is complicated by the circumstance of the great majority of individuals which have come under observation being either in a completely or partially domesticated state. Many are also descended from ancestors which have previously been domesticated; a state which tends to produce a certain amount of variation from the original type. The four forms commonly distinguished by the inhabitants of South America are recognized as distinct species, though with difficulties in defining their distinctive characteristics.

These are:

The llama and alpaca are only known in the domestic state, and are variable in size and of many colors, being often white, brown, or piebald. Some are grey or black. The guanaco and vicuña are wild, the former being endangered, and of a nearly uniform light-brown color, passing into white below. They certainly differ from each other, the vicuña being smaller, more slender in its proportions, and having a shorter head than the guanaco. The vicuña lives in herds on the bleak and elevated parts of the mountain range bordering the region of perpetual snow, amidst rocks and precipices, occurring in various suitable localities throughout Peru, in the southern part of Ecuador, and as far south as the middle of Bolivia. Its manners very much resemble those of the chamois of the European Alps; it is as vigilant, wild, and timid. The fiber is extremely delicate and soft, and highly valued for the purposes of weaving, but the quantity which each animal produces is minimal. Alpaca are descended from a wild vicuna ancestor while the domesticated llama is descended from a wild guanaco ancestor, though at this point there has been a considerable amount of hybridization between the two species.

Differentiating characteristics between llamas and alpacas include the llama's larger size and longer head. Alpaca fiber is generally more expensive but not always more valuable. Alpacas tend to have a more consistent color throughout the body. The most apparent visual difference between llamas and camels is that camels have a hump or humps and llamas do not.

Commonly unknown, llamas do not have eyelashes. However, their cousin the alpaca does.


A dam and her cria.

Llamas have an unusual reproductive cycle for a large animal. Female llamas are induced ovulators. Through the act of mating, the female releases an egg and is often fertilized on the first attempt. Female llamas do not go into "heat" or have an estrus cycle.[4]

Like humans, llama males and females mature sexually at different rates. Females reach puberty at approximately 12 months. However, males do not become sexually mature until approximately 3 years.[5]



Llamas mate with the female in a kush (lying down) position, which is fairly unusual in a large animal. They mate for an extended period of time (20–45 minutes), also unusual in a large animal.


The gestation period of a llama is 11 1/2 months (350 days). Dams (female llamas) do not lick off their babies, as they have an attached tongue which does not reach outside of the mouth more than half an inch. Rather, they will nuzzle and hum to their newborns.[6]


A cria (pronounced cree-ah) is the name for a baby llama (also alpaca, vicuña, or guanaco). Crias are typically born with all the females of the herd gathering around, in an attempt to protect against the male llamas and potential predators. Llamas give birth standing. Birth is usually quick and problem free, over in less than 30 minutes. Most births take place between 8 a.m. and noon, during the warmer daylight hours. This may increase cria survival by reducing fatalities due to hypothermia during cold Andean nights. While unproven, it is speculated that this birthing pattern is a continuation of the birthing patterns observed in the wild. Crias are up and standing, walking and attempting to nurse within the first hour after birth.[7][8][9] Crias are partially fed with llama milk that is lower in fat and salt and higher in phosphorous and calcium than cow or goat milk. A female llama will only produce about 60 ml (0.0021 oz) of milk at a time when she gives milk. For this reason, the cria must suckle frequently to receive the nutrients it requires.[10]

Breeding situations

Harem breeding

Male is left with females most of the year.

Field breeding

A female is turned out into a field with a male llama and left there for some period of time. This is the easiest method in terms of labor, but the least useful in terms of prediction of a likely birth date. An ultrasound test can be performed and together with the exposure dates a better idea when the cria is expected can be determined.

Hand breeding

This is the most efficient method, but requires the most work on the part of the human involved. A male and female llama are put into the same pen and breeding is monitored. They are then separated and rebred every other day until one or the other refuses the breeding. Usually one can get in two breedings using this method, though some studs have routinely refused to breed a female more than once. The separation presumably helps to keep the sperm count high for each breeding and also helps to keep the condition of the female llama's reproductive tract more sound. If the breeding is not successful within two to three weeks, the female is rebred once again.


Testing for pregnancy

Llamas should be tested for pregnancy after breeding at 2–3 weeks, 6 weeks, and at least 12 weeks.

  1. "Spit testing". Bring the potentially pregnant dam to an intact male. If the stud attempts to breed her and she lies down for him within a fairly short period of time, she is not pregnant. If she remains on her feet, spits, attacks him, or otherwise prevents his being able to mate, it is assumed that she is probably pregnant. This test gets its name due to the dam spitting at the male if she is pregnant.
  2. Progesterone testing. A veterinarian can take a blood sample test for progesterone. A high level can indicate a pregnancy.
  3. Palpation. In this test, the veterinarian or breeder manually feels inside the llama to detect a pregnancy. There are some risks to the llama, but it can be an accurate method for pregnancy detection.
  4. Ultrasound is the most accurate method in the hands of an experienced veterinarian. A veterinarian experienced with ultrasound can do an exterior exam and detect a fetus as early as 45 days.

Spit testing with an intact male is generally free and is usually accurate. However, some hormonal conditions in females can make them reject a male when they are in fact not pregnant, and, more rarely, accept a male when they are pregnant. Progesterone tests can give a high reading in some females with a hormonal problem who are in fact not pregnant. Neither of the previous methods, nor palpation, can give you a reasonably accurate idea of the age of the fetus, while an ultrasound procedure can. In addition, an ultrasound procedure can distinguish between pregnancy and misleading physical conditions, or between a live and dead fetus. The big disadvantage of an ultrasound procedure is that some training in the use of ultrasound equipment is required, and not all veterinarians have the equipment needed to perform the examination.


Options for feeding llamas are quite wide. The llama owner has a wide variety of commercial and farm based food products to choose from for llamas. The major determining factors which enter into the decision of what to feed include feed cost, availability of feed, nutrient balance and energy density required. Young llamas, which are still actively growing, require a greater concentration of nutrients than mature animals because of their smaller digestive tract capacity.[11]

Estimated daily requirements of bromgrass hay, alfalfa hay and corn silage on an as fed and 100% dry matter basis for llamas from 22 to 550 pounds.[12]
Body Weight
Bromgrass Alfalfa Corn Silage
(as fed) (dry matter) (as fed) (dry matter) (as fed) (dry matter)
22 0.8 0.7 0.5 0.5 1.5 0.4
44 1.3 1.1 0.9 0.8 2.6 0.7
88 2.1 1.9 1.5 1.3 4.3 1.2
110 2.6 2.3 1.7 1.6 5.2 1.4
165 3.4 3.1 2.3 2.1 6.9 1.9
275 5.0 4.5 3.4 3.1 10.1 2.8
385 6.4 5.7 4.3 3.9 12.9 3.6
495 7.8 7.0 5.3 4.8 15.8 4.4
550 8.5 7.6 5.7 5.2 17.0 4.8


A pack llama in the Rocky Mountain National Park

Llamas which are well-socialized and trained to halter and lead after weaning are very friendly and pleasant to be around. They are extremely curious and most will approach people easily. However, llamas that are bottle-fed or over-socialised and over-handled as youngsters will become extremely difficult to handle when mature, when they will begin to treat humans as they treat each other, which is characterized by bouts of spitting, kicking and neck wrestling. Anyone having to bottle-feed a cria should keep contact to a minimum and stop as soon as possible.

When correctly reared spitting at a human is a rare thing. Llamas are very social herd animals, however, and do sometimes spit at each other as a way of disciplining lower-ranked llamas in the herd. A llama's social rank in a herd is never static. They can always move up or down in the social ladder by picking small fights. This is usually done between males to see who will become alpha. Their fights are visually dramatic with spitting, ramming each other with their chests, neck wrestling and kicking, mainly to knock the other off balance. The females are usually only seen spitting as a means of controlling other herd members.

While the social structure might always be changing, they live as a family and they do take care of each other. If one notices a strange noise or feels threatened, a warning bray is sent out and all others come to alert. They will often hum to each other as a form of communication.

The sound of the llama making groaning noises or going "mwa" is often a sign of fear or anger. If a llama is agitated, it will lay its ears back. One may determine how agitated the llama is by the materials in the spit. The more irritated the llama is, the further back into each of the three stomach compartments it will try to draw materials from for its spit.

An "orgle" is the mating sound of a llama or alpaca, made by the sexually aroused male. The sound is reminiscent of gargling, but with a more forceful, buzzing edge. Males begin the sound when they become aroused and continue throughout the act of procreation—from 15 minutes to more than an hour.[13][14]

Guard Behavior

Llama guarding sheep on the South Downs in West Sussex.

Using llamas as livestock guards in North America began in the early 1980s and some sheep producers have used llamas successfully for that entire time. The use of guard llamas has greatly increased since a magazine article in 1990, when national attention was drawn to the potential use of llamas for guarding sheep. The ideal guard animal should protect sheep against predation while requiring minimal training, care, and maintenance. It should stay with and not disrupt the flock, and live long enough to be cost effective. A variety of guard animals currently in use include dogs, donkeys, kangaroos, ostriches, and llamas. Of these, guard dogs are still the most common; guard llamas number only in the hundreds. Studies have proven that llamas are successfully being used as guard animals for herds of sheep, goats, alpacas and other livestock throughout the North America. Protection of the herd and easy maintenance are the two most commonly cited advantages. Llamas are introduced to a herd and are pastured with them; they do not require separate shelters. Ideally, a llama should be introduced to the sheep while they are in a corral or small pasture rather than on open range or large pasture. The llama should remain in a small area until the sheep and llama seem well-adjusted and attached to each other. This encourages bonding between the sheep and llama. A llama introduced in this manner will be more effective as a guard against predators.

Research supports the use of multiple guard llamas is not as effective as one llama. Multiple male llamas tend to bond with one another, rather than with the livestock, and may ignore the flock. A gelded male of two years of age bonds closely with its new charges and is instinctively very effective in preventing predation. Some llamas appear to bond more quickly to sheep or goats if they are introduced just prior to lambing. Many sheep and goat producers indicate a special bond quickly develops between lambs and their guard llama and that the llama is particularly protective of the lambs.

Using llamas as guards has eliminated the losses to predators for many producers. The value of the livestock saved each year more than exceeds the purchase cost and annual maintenance of a llama. Although not every llama is suited to the job, most llamas are a viable, non-lethal alternative for reducing predation, requiring no training and little care.[15][16]


Pre-Incan cultures

The Moche people frequently placed llamas and llama parts in the burials of important people, as offerings or provisions for the afterlife.[17] The Moche culture of pre-Columbian Peru depicted llamas quite realistically in their ceramics.

Inca Empire

In the Inca empire llamas were the only beasts of burden, and many of the peoples dominated by the Inca had long traditions of llama herding. For the Inca nobility the llama were of symbolical signicance and llama figures were often buried with the dead.[18] In South America llamas are still used as beasts of burden, as well as for the production of fiber and meat.[19]

The Inca deity Urcuchillay was depicted in the form of a multicolored llama.[20]

Spanish Empire

The first image of llamas in Europa, 1553.

One of the main uses for llamas at the time of the Spanish conquest was to bring down ore from the mines in the mountains.[21] Gregory de Bolivar estimated that in his day, as many as three hundred thousand were employed in the transport of produce from the Potosí mines alone, but since the introduction of horses, mules, and donkeys, the importance of the llama as a beast of burden has greatly diminished.[22]

According to Juan Ignacio Molina the Dutch captain Joris van Spilbergen observed the use of chiliquenes (a llama type) by native Mapuches of Mocha Island as plough animals in 1614.[23]


Llamas also have a fine undercoat which can be used for handicrafts and garments. The coarser outer guard hair is used for rugs, wall-hangings and lead ropes. The fiber comes in many different colors ranging from white, grey, redish brown, brown, dark brown and black.

The individual shafts of the wool can be measured in micrometres. 1 micrometre = 1/1000 millimetre.

Handspun llama yarn from Patagonia
Average diameter of some of the finest, natural fibers[24]
Animal Fiber diameter
Vicuña 6 – 10
Alpaca (Suri) 10 - 15
Muskox (Qivlut) 11 - 13
Merino 12 - 20
Angora Rabbit 13
Cashmere 15 - 19
Yak Down 15 - 19
Camel Down 16 - 25
Guanaco 16 - 18
Llama (Tapada) 20 - 30
Chinchilla 21
Mohair 25 - 45
Alpaca (Huacaya) 27.7
Llama (Ccara) 30 - 40

See also


  1. ^ a b "Llama". 2007-06-25. 
  2. ^ South Central Llama Association (2007-06-25). "Llama Facts". 
  3. ^ Fowler, page 1.
  4. ^ Greta Stamberg and Derek Wilson (2007-04-12). "Induced Ovulation". Llamapaedia. 
  5. ^ L. W. Johnson (2007-04-17). "Llama reproduction". College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins.. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. 
  6. ^ "The llama reproductive cycle". LlamaWeb. 2007-04-17. 
  7. ^ The Department of Veterninary Clinical Sciences at Ohio State University. Camelid Medicine, Surgery, and Reproduction for Veterinarians. Part II. 
  8. ^ Long, Patrick O.. Llama & Alpaca Neonatal Care. pp. 112. 
  9. ^ Birutta, Gale. A Guide to Raising Llamas. pp. 327. 
  10. ^ Linda March. "Llamas: A Different Kind of Pet". University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine. Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  11. ^ Randy Sell (2007-04-17). "Llama". Department of Agricultural Economics, North Dakota State University. 
  12. ^ Murray E. Fowler, DVM (1989). Medicine and Surgery of South American Camelids; Llama, Alpaca, Vicuña, Guanaco. Iowa State University Press. 
  13. ^ Greta Stamberg and Derek Wilson (1997-09-02). "Behavior: Sounds". Llamapedia. 
  14. ^ Brian and Jane Pinkerton (2008-05-17). "Llama Sounds". Humm Page. 
  15. ^ Walker, Cameron. "Guard Llamas Keep Sheep Safe From Coyotes." National Geographic, 10 June 2003.
  16. ^ "Guard Llamas: An Alternative for Effective Predator Management". 
  17. ^ Berrin, Katherine & Larco Museum. The Spirit of Ancient Peru:Treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997.
  18. ^ "Little Llamas". Inca culture. 2006-10-10. 
  19. ^ "Information Resources on the South American Camelids: Llamas, Alpacas, Guanacos, and Vicunas 1943-2006". 2007-06-25. 
  20. ^ D'Altroy, Terence N.. "The Inca Pantheon". The Incas. The Peoples of America. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 149. ISBN 9780631176770. 
  21. ^ Jared Diamond (2007-04-12). "Guns, Germs & Steel. The Show: Episode Two". PBS. 
  22. ^ Jared Diamond (2007-04-12). "Guns, Germs & Steel. The story of ... Llamas". PBS. 
  23. ^ The Geographical, Natural and Civil History of Chili, Pages 15 and 16, Volume II
  24. ^ Beula Williams (2007-04-17). "Llama Fiber". International Llama Association. 


  • Murray E. Fowler (1998). Medicine and Surgery of South American Camelids. Wiley-Blackwell. 

External links


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