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Last updated date: 23rd May 2024
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Llama Sheep

The llama (Lama glama) is a domesticated South American camelid that has been utilised by Andean communities as a meat and pack animal until pre-Columbian times.

Llamas are herd animals who live in groups with other llamas. Their wool is extremely silky and free of lanolin. After several repetitions, llamas may learn simple tasks. They could carry roughly 25 to 30 percent of their body weight in a pack for 8 to 13 kilometres. The name llama (sometimes written "lama" or "glama") was taken from native Peruvians by European invaders.

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Llamas' ancestors are considered to have originated in North America's central plains approximately 40 million years ago and then migrated to South America during the Great American Interchange approximately three million years ago. Camelids became extinct in North America by the end of the last ice age (10,000–12,000 years ago). In 2007, there were approximately seven million llamas animals and alpacas in South America, and about 158,000 llamas and 100,000 alpacas in the United States and Canada, derived from progenitors brought late in the twentieth century. 

Llamas are significant figures in Aymara mythology. It is reported that the Heavenly Llama drinks ocean water and urinates while it rains. Llamas would return to their native water springs and lagoons at the end of time, as per Aymara eschatology.


The vicua, Suri alpaca, guanaco (Lama guanicoe), and Huacaya alpaca, as well as the domestic llama, are members of the Lamoids (or llamas) family (Lama glama). Guanacos and vicuas are wild animals, but llamas and alpacas are solely domesticated. Llamas were first compared to sheep by early writers, but their resemblance to camels was quickly noticed. In Carl Linnaeus' Systema Naturae (1758), they have been included in the genus Camelus, alongside alpacas. They were, however, isolated from the guanaco by Georges Cuvier in 1800 below the name lama. The guanaco is the wild ancestor of the llama, whereas the vicua is the wild ancestor of the alpaca, according to DNA study; the latter two were classified in the genus Vicugna.

The genera Lama and Vicugna are the only living members of a quite different section of the Artiodactyla or even-toed ungulates known as Tylopoda, or "bump-footed," due to the unusual bumps on the bottoms of their feet. The Tylopoda are divided into a single family, the Camelidae, and belong to the Artiodactyla order along with the Tragulina (chevrotains), Suina (pigs), Pecora (ruminants), and Whippomorpha (cetaceans and hippos, that belong to Artiodactyla from a cladistic, if not traditional, standpoint). The Tylopoda are more or less related to each of the sister taxa, occupying a middle ground between them in various ways, sharing certain traits from each but displaying unique changes not found in some of the other taxa.

Paleontologists Joseph Leidy, Edward Drinker Cope, and Othniel Charles Marsh interpreted the 19th-century findings of a huge and hitherto unknown extinct Paleogene fauna of North America, which helped comprehension of the family's early history. Llamas were not always restricted to South America; Pleistocene dumps in the Rocky Mountains and Central America revealed a plethora of llama-like remnants. The fossil llamas were significantly bigger than modern-day llamas. During the last glacial ages, several species persisted in North America. Llamas in North America are classified as a single extinct genus, Hemiauchenia. Llama-like creatures would have been prevalent in modern-day California, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Missouri, and Florida 25,000 years ago.

Camelids have a long and illustrious fossil record. Camel-like creatures have been traced back to early Miocene forms from today's highly diversified species. They lost the traits that characterised them as camelids, and as a result, they were classed as ancestral artiodactyls. There are no remains of these older species in the Old World, indicating that camelids originated in North America and that the progenitors of Old World camels crossed the Bering Land Bridge from there. Camelids were able to expand to South America as part of the Great American Interchange three million years ago when the Isthmus of Panama was formed. Camels in North America, on the other hand, became extinct towards the end of the Pleistocene.


A fully grown llama stands between 1.7 and 1.8 metres (5 ft 7 into 5 ft 11 in) tall at the top of its head and weighs between 130 and 200 kilogrammes (290 and 440 lb). A young llama (called a cria) may weigh anywhere from 9 to 14 kg upon birth (20 and 31 lb). Llamas live about 15 to 25 years on average, with some living for 30 years or longer.

Because of its smaller size, the skull resembles that of Camelus, with a larger brain chamber and orbits, as well as less developed cranial ridges. The premaxilla connects the nasal bones, which are shorter and larger. Cervical 7, dorsal 12, lumbar 7, sacral 4, caudal 15 to 20 vertebrae.

The ears are long and somewhat curled inward, and are commonly referred to as "banana" shaped. There is no hump on the back. The feet are small, with more space between the toes than camels, and each having its own planar pad. The fibre is long, woolly, and soft, and the tail is short. All of the animals in this genus are remarkably similar in terms of key structural properties, as well as general appearance and behaviour, therefore naturalists disagree about whether they should be classified as one, two, or more species. The situation is compounded by the fact that the vast majority of those that have been observed are either fully or partially domesticated. Many are also descended from domesticated forebears, which results in a degree of diversity from the original kind.


For a huge animal, llamas have an interesting reproductive cycle. The female releases an egg during mating and is frequently fertilised on the first try. Llamas do not have an estrus cycle ("heat").

Llama men and females mature sexually at various speeds, just like humans. Females develop puberty around the age of 12 months, whereas boys do not reach sexual maturity until they are three years old.

Mating - Llamas mate in a kush (laying down) position, which is unusual for such a huge animal. They also mate for a long duration (20–45 minutes), which is remarkable for such a huge animal.

Gestation - A llama's gestation span is 11.5 months (350 days). Dams (female llamas) do not lick their kids because they have an attached tongue that does not extend more than 13 millimetres (1/2 inch) outside of the mouth. They will instead nuzzle and hum to their babies.

Breeding Techniques

  • Harem Mating- The male is left with females for most of the year.

  • Field Mating- A female llama is turned out into a field with a male llama and left there for a length of time for field mating. This method is the simplest in terms of labour, but it is the least accurate in terms of predicting a likely birth date. An ultrasound test can be performed to get a better sense of when the cria is due, which can be used with the exposure dates to get a better indication of when the cria is due.

  • Hand Mating- Hand mating is the most efficient approach, although it necessitates the most effort from the human partner. The mating of a male and female llama is observed in the same corral. After then, they are separated and re-mated every other day until one of them refuses to mate. This strategy usually results in two matings, while some stud males will reject to mate a female more than once. The separation probably helps to maintain the sperm count high for each mating while also keeping the reproductive tract of the female llama in better shape. The female has mated again if the first mating fails after two to three weeks.


After weaning, llamas who have been well-socialized and trained to halter and lead are quite friendly and delightful to be around. They are incredibly curious, and the majority of them will approach strangers with ease. Bottle-fed llamas, as well as those that have been over-socialized and handled as children, will become exceedingly difficult to handle as adults, when they will begin to treat humans the same way they treat each other, which includes spitting, kicking, and neck wrestling. Llamas have begun to appear as licenced therapy animals in nursing homes and hospitals. In 2008, Rojo the Llama in the Pacific Northwest was certified. Animal-assisted therapy, according to the Mayo Clinic, can help with pain, sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion. This sort of therapy is becoming more popular, and there are various organisations that participate across the United States.

It's unusual for a small llama to spit at a human when they've been properly raised. Llamas, on the other hand, are sociable herd animals who spit at each other to discipline lower-ranking llamas in the herd. The social rank of a llama in a herd is never static. By picking little fights, they may always move up or down the social ladder. This is typically done amongst guys to determine who will become the dominant one. Spitting, pushing each other with their chests, neck wrestling, and kicking are all used to knock the other off balance in their bouts. Females usually only spit to keep the other members of the herd under control. The components in the llama's spit can be used to indicate how agitated it is. The llama will try to draw materials for its spit from the deeper back into each of the three stomach compartments as it becomes angrier.

The sexually excited female llama and male llama or alpaca make an "orgle," which is a mating sound. The sound is similar to gargling, but it has a stronger, buzzing edge. Males start making the sound when they are aroused and sustain it for 15 to more than an hour during the act of procreation.

Llamas have been utilised as livestock guards in North America since the early 1980s, and some sheep ranchers have had success with them since then. They were also used to protect their smaller cousins, the alpacas. They're most widely utilised in the western United States, where larger predators like coyotes and stray dogs are a problem. A single gelding (castrated male) is usually employed. Multiple guard llamas, according to research, aren't as effective as one. Multiple men are more likely to bond with one another than with the animals, and they may overlook the flock. Many producers' losses to predators have been decreased because of the use of llamas as guards. The value of the animals saved each year far outweighs the cost of a llama's acquisition and annual upkeep. Although not every llama is suitable for the role, the majority are a feasible, nonlethal option for minimising predation that requires little training and maintenance.

History of Domestication

1. Pre-Incan Civilizations

According to scholar Alex Chepstow-Lusty, the use of llama dung as fertiliser enabled the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to widespread agriculture.

Llamas and llama parts were commonly buried with notable persons as offerings or sustenance for the afterlife by the Moche people. Llamas were represented fairly realistically in pre-Columbian Peruvian ceramics by the Moche.

2. Empire of the Incas

Llama alpacas were the only beasts of burden in the Inca Empire, and many of the Inca's subjects had ancient traditions of llama herding. The llama was a symbol of the Inca nobility, and llama statues were frequently buried with the dead. Llamas are still employed as animals of burden, as well as for the production of fibre and meat, throughout South America.

Urcuchillay, the Inca deity, was represented as a colourful llama.

The vast quantities of llamas present in the southern Peruvian highlands, according to Carl Troll, were a key role in the Inca Empire's growth. It's worth noting that the Inca Empire's largest extent roughly corresponded to the greatest dispersion of alpacas and llamas in Pre-Hispanic America. The relationship between the puna and páramo Andean biomes, llama pastoralism, and the Inca state is still being studied.

3. The Spanish Empire was a Powerful Force in the World

During the period of the Spanish conquest, one of the most common uses for llamas was to transport ore from mountain mines. According to Gregory de Bolivar, as many as 300,000 people were employed in the delivery of products from the Potos mines alone in his day, but the llama's role as a beast of burden has drastically declined since the advent of horses, mules, and donkeys. In 1614, the Dutch captain Joris van Spilbergen observed native Mapuches of Mocha Island using hueques (perhaps a llama variety) as plough animals, according to Juan Ignacio Molina. In Chile, hueque numbers began to dwindle in the 16th and 17th centuries, as European livestock displaced them. 

Although the exact cause of its extinction is unknown, it is known that the introduction of sheep resulted in some rivalry between the two domestic animals. Anecdotal evidence from the mid-seventeenth century implies that both species coexisted, but that sheep outnumbered hueques by a large margin. Hueques declined to the point where only the Mapuche from Mariquina and Huequén near Angol raised the animal in the late 18th century.

4. United States of America

Llamas were first brought to the United States as zoo displays in the late 1800s. Due to restrictions on animal immigration from South America due to hoof and mouth disease, as well as a lack of commercial interest, the number of llamas remained low until the late twentieth century. The popularity of llamas as livestock grew in the 1970s, and the number of llamas climbed as farmers bred and produced more animals. In the 1980s and 1990s, both the price and the number of llamas in the United States skyrocketed. Due to the lack of a market for llama fibre or meat in the United States, and the limited value of guard llamas, the primary value in llamas was in breeding more animals, a classic symptom of an agricultural speculative bubble. 

According to the US Department of Agriculture, there were about 145,000 llamas in the United States in 2002, with animals selling for as much as $220,000. The lack of an end market for the animals, however, caused a drop in both llama prices and the number of llamas; the Great Recession further dried up investment capital, and the number of llamas in the United States began to dwindle as fewer animals were bred and older animals died of old age. The number of llamas in the United States had plummeted below 40,000 by 2017.


Llamas have a soft undercoat that may be utilised in crafts and clothing. Rugs, wall hangings, and lead ropes are made using the coarser outer guard hair. The fibre is available in a variety of hues, including white, grey, reddish-brown, brown, dark brown, and black.

Medical Uses

Llamas have antibodies that are well-suited to treating specific ailments, according to doctors and researchers. Scientists are looking into how llamas can help fight coronaviruses like MERS and SARS-CoV-2 (which causes COVID-19).

FAQs on Llama

1. Why Do Llamas Hum?

Ans. When llamas are uncomfortable or overheated, they hum. They also hum when they are intrigued, anxious, upset, or calling their young.

2. Is it Possible to Have Llamas as Pets?

Ans. Llamas are primarily used as pets and companions. Llamas have become more popular as pets as a result of their gentle natures, cleanliness, and pleasant demeanours. Llamas are relatively healthy, thriving creatures that require little more than basic care.

3. What is the Life Cycle of a Llama?

Ans. A llama's typical lifespan is 20 years, however, it can range from 15 to 30 years. Llamas can be bred when they are 18 to 24 months old. Males are viable at nine months, but they do not become reliable breeders until they reach sexual maturity at three years.

4. What is a Baby Llama Called?

Ans. Crias. A cria is the name for a baby llama.