The llama (lama glama) is a member of the camelidae family of animals which consists of camels, and the South American camelids – llamas, alpacas, guanacos and vicuna. The llama is the largest of the South American camelids weighing anything up to 400lbs (180kg) and standing approximately 4ft (1.25m) at the shoulder.
Llamas were domesticated from guanacos some 5,000 years ago. Their ancestors inhabited the plains of North America and migrated south to the Andes about 3 million years ago.
Llamas have an average life span of around 18 years, although some may live to be over 20.
Llamas can be grouped broadly into two types; Ccara and Tampuli. The Ccara has a short to medium length coat with short fibre on the legs and head, and tends to be larger than the Tampuli. The Tampuli is more heavily woolled than the Ccara, its coat extending down the legs, and often distinguished by a woolly topknot.
With their distinctive ‘banana shaped’ ears, they are found in a variety of colours from solid black and white and varying shades and mixes of brown and grey. Like all camelids, they do not have hooves, but instead have two-toed feet with toenails and soft foot pads. Llamas have a double fleece; an outer guard hair and a fine soft undercoat. They do not need to be shorn but the fleece can be spun and knitted or woven into an array of wonderfully soft garments.
Elegant and with an exotic quality, llamas are strong intelligent and hardy. They have a gentle temperament and an inquisitive nature. Llamas are becoming increasingly popular as field pets, being gentle quiet and undemanding. They live in harmony with other field stock and can be used as livestock guardians, keeping predators from attacking lambs or poultry. They quickly learn to wear a halter and be led and will happily carry a pack. They can also be taught to pull a small cart.
They spit don’t they?
(This must be the most common question asked about llamas!)
Not normally at people!
Just as dogs can bite and cats can scratch and horses can kick, so llamas can spit – but this is predominantly amongst themselves to establish a pecking order and to maintain their own space.
They do not generally spit at people – in fact they will deliberately avoid doing so. If two llamas are having a ‘spit-spat’ and a human gets between them they will stop spitting to avoid the spit hitting the person. The circumstances where a llama might spit at a human is if they are badly treated or are in a particularly stressful situation – a llama might spit whilst being given an injection for example.