Llama Facts: Habitat, Behavior, Diet

Scientific Name: Lama glama

Female llama with young (cria).
Female llama with young (cria).

DmitriyBurlakov, Getty Images

The llama (Lama glama) is a large, furry mammal that was domesticated in South America thousands of years ago for meat, fur, and as pack animal. Although related to camels, llamas don't have humps. Llamas are close relatives of alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos. Although they are all different species, a group of llamas, alpacas, guanacos, and vicuñas may be called lamoids or simply llamas.

Fast Facts: Llama

  • Scientific Name: Lama glama
  • Common Name: Llama
  • Basic Animal Group: Mammal
  • Size: 5 feet 7 inches - 5 feet 11 inches
  • Weight: 290-440 pounds
  • Lifespan: 15-25 years
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Habitat: From the Andes Mountains of South America
  • Population: Millions
  • Conservation Status: Not evaluated (domestic animal)

Description

Llamas and other lamoids have cloven feet, short tails, and long necks. A llama has long banana-shaped ears and a cleft upper lip. Mature llamas have modified canine and incisor teeth called "fighting teeth" or "fangs." Generally, these teeth are removed from intact males, as they can injure other males during fights for dominance.

Llamas occur in many colors, including white, black, brown, tan, gray, and piebald. The fur may be short-coated (Ccara) or medium-coated (Curaca). Adults range from 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 11 inches in height and weigh between 290 and 440 pounds.

Habitat and Distribution

Llamas were domesticated in Peru around 4,000 to 5,000 years ago from wild guanacos. However, the animals actually came from North America and moved to South America following the Ice Age.

Today, llamas are raised all over the world. Several million live in the Americas, Europe, and Australia.

Llamas and alpacas resulted from domestication of guanacos and vicunas in the Andes.
Llamas and alpacas resulted from domestication of guanacos and vicunas in the Andes.

Diet

Llamas are herbivores that graze on a wide variety of plants. They typically eat corn, alfalfa, and grass. Although llamas regurgitate and re-chew food like sheep and cattle, they have a three-compartment stomach and are not ruminants. The llama has a very long large intestine that allows it to digest cellulose-rich plants and also survive on much less water than most mammals.

Behavior

Llamas are herd animals. Except for dominance disputes, they don't usually bite. They spit, wrestle, and kick to establish social rank and fight off predators.

Llamas are intelligent and easily halter-trained. They can carry between 25% and 30% of their weight for a distance of 5 to 8 miles.

Reproduction and Offspring

Unlike most large animals, llamas are induced ovulators. That is, they ovulate as a result of mating rather than going into estrus or "heat." Llamas mate lying down. Gestation lasts 350 days (11.5 months) and results in a single newborn, which is called a cria. Crias stand, walk, and nurse within an hour after birth. Llama tongues don't reach far enough outside their mouths for the mother to lick her young dry, so llamas have evolved to give birth in warm daylight hours.

Female llamas become sexually mature at one year of age. Males mature later, around three years of age. Llamas usually live 15 to 25 years, but some live 30 years.

A male dromedary camel and female llama can produce a hybrid known as a cama. Due to the size difference between camels and llamas, camas only result from artificial insemination.

A llama and her cria.
A llama and her cria. Jonne Seijdel, Getty Images

Conservation Status

Because they are domesticated animals, llamas do not have a conservation status. The wild ancestor of the llama, the guanaco (Lama guanicoe), is classified as "least concern" by the IUCN. There are over a million guanacos and their population size is increasing.

Llamas and Humans

In the pre-Incan and Incan cultures, llamas were used as pack animals, for meat, and for fiber. Their fur is soft, warm, and lanolin-free. Llama dung was an important fertilizer. In modern society, llamas are still raised for all of these reasons, plus they are valuable guard animals for sheep and goats. Llamas bond with livestock and help protect lambs from coyotes, feral dogs, and other predators.

How to Tell Llamas and Alpacas Apart

While both llamas and alpacas may be grouped as "llamas," they are separate camelid species. Llamas are larger than alpacas and occur in more colors. A llama's face is more elongated and its ears are larger and banana-shaped. Alpacas have flatter faces and smaller, straight ears.

Sources

  • Birutta, Gale. A Guide to Raising Llamas. 1997. ISBN 0-88266-954-0.
  • Kurtén, Björn and Elaine Anderson. Pleistocene Mammals of North America. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 307, 1980. ISBN 0231037333.
  • Perry, Roger. Wonders of Llamas. Dodd, Mead & Company. p. 7, 1977. ISBN 0-396-07460-X.
  • Walker, Cameron. "Guard Llamas Keep Sheep Safe From Coyotes." National Geographic. June 10, 2003.
  • Wheeler, Dr Jane; Miranda Kadwell; Matilde Fernandez; Helen F. Stanley; Ricardo Baldi; Raul Rosadio; Michael W. Bruford. "Genetic analysis reveals the wild ancestors of the llama and the alpaca". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 268 (1485): 2575–2584, 2001. doi:10.1098/rspb.2001.1774