The llama belongs to the Camelid family. The llama is endemic to the high Andes of South America and has been domesticated for many centuries. They are one of the oldest domesticated animals. They provided their Peruvian masters with meat, wool, and hides. Their faeces were used as fuel. They were, and still are, used as work animals, primarily as beasts of burden. Llamas are very sure-footed. Pack trains of several hundred llamas carry goods through the rough terrain of the Andes. When in good health and well conditioned, a llama can carry 1/4 or slightly more of its bodyweight.

There is quite a variation in the llama world. The average weight is somewhere between 250 and 400 pounds with the height being 5 to 6 feet at the head. Like the camel, the llama has a long neck but it does not have a hump.

Llamas(54242)Credit: Wikimedia

The long ears are curved inwards slightly. These are carried in an erect manner although they can be flattened when the animal is upset. The eyes are large and doe-like. The upper lip is cleft and prehensile and can be used for grasping. Being a ruminant there are no front teeth on the upper jaw.

The foot is cloven and formed of two soft pads which have leathery bases. There are two toes, each with a hard nail. The soft pads make little impact on the environment. Llamas have a short tail. Llamas live for around 25 years with females having a reproductive life of 15 to 20 years.

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The coat of the llama consists of long, coarse guard hairs and an undercoat of shorter, lightweight fibres. The staple varies from 3 to 12 inches in length. The wool is grease-free. The guard hairs aid in the circulation of air and the undercoat provides warmth. Llamas come in a huge variety of colours and patterns.

Llamas are intelligent and sensitive. They are social creatures and like company. They are gentle and curious. They have a common sense approach to life and a generally calm nature. Llamas communicate through the body language of the ear, body and tail. They 'cluck' when annoyed and scream when fighting or if incensed. They also have a shrill alarm call and will 'hum' to other llamas, their cria or when lonely.

Llamas will normally spit only when under duress. In a herd situation, spitting warns others to keep away. Spitting may also be used to establish a pecking order within the herd. Llamas spit at humans when they feel threatened or when they feel they become annoyed. Before spitting the llama will lift its nose and hold the ears close to the neck.

While there are no 'breeds' of llama, there are several ways of classifying llamas. They can be classified according to their coat. Heavy-woolled llamas have a lot of wool on the body and neck with slightly less on the head and legs. Medium-woolled llamas have a moderate amount of wool on the body and neck with less on the head and legs and light-woolled animals have very little body wool, short wool on the neck and the head, ears and legs are smooth.

Llamas can also be classed as Chilean (medium height, very thick wool), classic (very tall, light build, short coat), Bolivian (shortish, very long staple, hair in the ears) and Argentinean (medium size, fine fibre, no hair in the ears).

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Llamas are ruminants (cud-chewing) with a three- rather than a four-compartment stomach. Their protein requirements are relatively low and under reasonable conditions, they will do nicely on pasture or hay.

The faeces of llamas are pelleted and are virtually odourless. Communal dung heaps are created in an area and used by all animals. Thus fly problems are reduced, there is minimal parasitic contamination and cleaning of yards and paddocks is made much easier for owners and breeders. The digestive system of the llama also assists in eliminating the introduction of noxious weeds.

The female does not ovulate until 24 to 36 hours after she has been bred (induced ovulation). Unusually for large animals, mating takes place with the female sitting down. Mating may take from 20 to 45 minutes, an inordinately long time for a large animal.

The gestation period is 350 days. It is common for females to have their first offspring at 14 to 18 months of age although males may be three years old before they are sexually mature. A single baby (cria) is born generally during daylight hours and with the mother standing. It is rare for a female to have twins. Cria weigh between 18 and 35 pounds when born and are quick to find their feet and nurse. The tongue of the llama extends outside the mouth only about half an inch so cria are not licked dry. The mother nuzzles the cria and hums to it. Weaning normally occurs at 5 to 6 months of age.

Llama wool is luxurious and keenly sought after by spinners and weavers. It is lightweight, warm and oil free.

Depending on the quality of the wool, it may be used for rope, blankets, serviceable or fine clothing. Llamas may be used as pack animals, pets, guard animals (usually for flocks of sheep), wool producers and draught animals.

Llamas are hardy, healthy animals and are almost disease-free. They are also low maintenance. It is believed there are now some 100,000 llamas in the United States.

Other articles on llamas that you might enjoy:
Heat Stress in Llamas
Aberrant Behaviour Syndrome (ABS) in Llamas

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