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What is a Llama?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A llama is a domesticated camelid, a fancy way of saying that the llama is a member of the camel family, native to South America. Llamas have been domesticated since at least 5,000 BCE, and they are used extensively in South America as pack animals and sources of fiber. In addition, llamas are used for meat and dairy. Thanks to exporting, llamas are found widely across the Americas today, and there are also llama herds in some other regions of the world as well.

A full-grown llama can reach a height of six feet (almost two meters), and weigh over 300 pounds (136 kilograms). Males tend to be slightly larger and heavier than females, and both genders have distinctive banana-shaped ears and dense, warm wool which lacks the lanolin found in the wool of sheep. Llamas also come in a range of colors, from classic white to polka-dotted.

Llamas have a few tricks up their sleeves which make them well-suited to the sometimes harsh environment of the Andes. Their upper lips are cleft and prehensile, allowing the animals to manipulate food with their lips, which can be very useful when scrounging for limited forage. Llamas are also remarkably intelligent, especially when compared to other herd animals, and the animals will work together as a herd when they need to. The thick wool of the llama keeps it insulated from cold weather, while the muscular kicks which adults can deal out tend to convince predators to give them a wide birth.

Although the llama has a reputation for being cantankerous, these animals are in fact quite friendly and very gentle, especially when they are handled and trained well and with respect. While a llama will spit at someone on occasion, this is rare in a llama which lives with a herd, as spitting is done to establish dominance; if human handlers are tough but fair and a llama has access to other llamas, spitting behavior does not generally emerge.

A llama can be used as a pack animal, carrying a wide assortment of goods, and the animal can also be combed or sheared for the thick, soft wool. The Lama glama, as the llama is known in the scientific world, can live up to 20 years if well cared for, and female llamas can throw several crias, or baby llamas, over the course of a lifetime, with a gestation period of 11 months. If you ever have an opportunity to be close to a llama and her cria, listen closely; female llamas hum to their babies to soothe them, much like human mothers.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By wesley91 — On Nov 08, 2010

Llamas are subdivided into two types: the medium coated Curaca and the short coated Ccara. They are devoid of hooves and their foot consists of two toes with soft pads. They were native to the Central Plains of North America but migrated to South America around 3 million years ago.

As of now, the llama population in the U.S. and Canada is around 25,000. In South America, that number is around 7 million. They can carry up to 25% of their body weight.

I find it interesting the way that llamas communicate with one another. They make a humming sound or even communicate by their posture and body language. They use their ears and tails especially. During their breeding season, they make a distinct orgling sound.

By anon82543 — On May 06, 2010

did you know that llamas can go a long time without eating but not even 10 minutes without drinking? Isn't that cool? And also their mouth is called a muzzle! i love llamas!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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