First domesticated thousands of years ago, llamas are used for meat, wool and transporting heavy loads over steep terrain.
Where They Live
Most common in the Andean highlands, the vast majority of the world’s llamas live in Bolivia.
What They Eat
Strict herbivores, llamas browse on low shrubs, grasses and other mountain vegetation.
What They Do
Llamas are highly social and do best living in herds. A dominant male will aggressively defend territory and mature females. Herd members communicate through scent, vocalizations and visual cues.
How They’re Doing
Llamas only exist as domesticated animals. Their closest wild relative, the guanaco, is numerous across much of South America.
- Llamas sometimes engage in a springing jump called “pronking” to play or to ward off predators.
- Due to their observant and protective nature, llamas are commonly used as guard animals for sheep and goat herds in South America. Normally calm and quiet, llamas will charge, kick, bite, spit, and vocalize when threatened.
- Females give birth to a single offspring called a cria. A young llama stays with its mom for about a year. Moms and crias will hum to each other when bonding.
- A herd of llamas will often have several communal dung piles where all members of the herd go to poop and pee. While the reason for this behavior isn’t fully clear, it sure makes clean up a breeze!
- Llama droppings are called “beans.” Llama beans can be used as garden fertilizer, with no need to compost or age them first.
- Llamas played a critical role in the economic and social lives of early Andean people hundreds of years before the Incan Empire. A modest network of trails linked small communities throughout the Andes. “Llameros” were llama shepherds that traveled these trails, bringing news and goods from village to village.
- During the peak of the Incan Empire in the 1400s and 1500s, llamas were owned communally or by select individuals. Community herds grazed freely and mingled with private herds. To identify the owner, a piece of colorful yarn called an ear yarn was tied to a llama’s ear. This practice persists in parts of the Andes today.
- A large, well-trained llama can carry 100 pounds for nearly 20 miles per day. In contrast to horse and donkey hooves, the soft foot pad of a llama does little damage to trails and grazing areas. Thick, leathery soles and two toes give a llama great traction and versatility.
- A llama’s hair is called its fiber. Llama fiber insulates against cold and simultaneously protects from the intense sunlight in the high Andes. People who are allergic to wool can often wear llama garments without a reaction. This is because llama fiber does not have lanolin, a natural oil that sheep’s wool contains.
- Llamas cannot sweat or pant to cool themselves, so they must be sheared in order to avoid heat stress. Shearing happens in the spring, once the cold of winter has passed. One or two inches of fiber is kept on the llama to prevent sunburn. By the following winter, enough fiber has grown back to keep the llama warm.