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Over The
Llama Talk

& 4-H





All American 



Llamas have quite a dignified manner and because of their extreme curiousity, have a delightful habit of coming close and leaning over to sniff - just to see what's going on. They are highly social herd animals and need the companionship of another llama or grazing livestock. Under normal conditions, llamas will not bite, kick, or spit, but are gentle and well-behaved. Only one exception to this rule is that if a male has been over handled or bottle fed improperly during his young years, he may possibly develop some aggressive behavior which can be quite dangerous when he is an adult. It is not adviseable to purchase a young animal that has more interest in humans than in the herd. and that is very friendly. More about male behaviors.

Mature by age four, llamas weigh an average of 250 to 500 pounds and have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years. Their upper lip is split, (called prehensile) enabling them to pick up small pieces of grass, sticks, or leaves as they browse. With only lower teeth in the front, they do not bite people or predators. There are grinding molars on the top and bottom jaw in the back for chewing. Adult males develop six pointed fighting teeth, three on each side, which can efficiently be used in a ripping fashion. In domestic herds, these six teeth should be removed for safety. More about fighting teeth.

Their split-toed foot has a hard nail on each of the two toes and a soft pad on the bottom of the foot. This structure allows llamas to be very quiet, agile and sure-footed and they have a low impact on the environment. Their toenails need to be trimmed periodically as routine management. More about trimming toenails.

Llamas communicate by a series of gentle hums and ear and tail movements. They have a keen sense of hearing and sight. Llama's ears are long and hooked and can turn independently of each other as they pick up sounds from all directions. When danger is in the area, they give an unusual high pitched alarm call - it almost sounds similar to a tropical bird.
Ears up tall and forward indicates interest and curiosity. Ears laid back may indicate apprehensiveness to something new.
When totally relaxing and chewing their cud, their ears are also often laid back. Many think that laid back ears is a sign that they intend to spit, but that is not often the case. When threatening to spit, the ears will be laid back and the head will be held high pointed into the air as they posture trying to make themselves look tall - a body position that cannot be missed.

Posturing stretched very tall with their head held high, usually with their tail rapidly flipping, indicates a standoffish displeasure. This behavior is usually given by a pregnant female when a male starts to approach her. Accompanied by a clucking sound in her throat, she warns the male that she is not receptive and has no intention of giving him a second look. If he continues to pursue her, he will be given a firmer "no" accompanied with green spit.

Spitting is the llama's unique way of self defense, however they normally do not spit at people unless they have been mistreated or are objecting to a something hurtful. Llamas use spitting as a means of communication with others in their herd and it can often just be a warning spray into the air as they show their dominance over a food dish, discipline the young crias, or indicate their pecking order in the herd. When seriously aggrevated, the spit consists of regurgitated grass rumen and has a very foul odor. Although the spit may come surprisingly sudden, it is far less painless than a dog bite.

When spitting occurs within the herd, it results in a sour mouth for both participants. Both animals end up with their mouth hanging open and the lower lip loosely hanging as if disjointed. Accompanied by drooling, this will last 15 to 20 minutes and they will be unable to eat during this time. They usually like to hold some hay or a leaf in their mouth to sweeten things up.

Within the llama's pasture, you will be able to find one or more dust bowls constructed by the animals. Pawing at it with their toe nails, they create a very fine bed of dust where they love to roll. This daily dust bath is thought to help keep their fibers separated. Whatever it does, it certainly feels good to them and they love to roll !
A modified ruminant, llamas chew their cud when relaxed. Often a bulge in the side cheek area may be seen as they store their next wad of cud. More than one new llama owner has been alarmed when first observing this bulge thinking that it is a huge abscess on the jaw.

On the lower, outside of the rear legs, there is an oval, hairless spot called the chestnut or scent gland. The proper name is the metatarsal gland which may help in regulating the animal's body temperature. Actually, it's purpose is not well understood. Often this spot is alarming when noticed by new owners as it may appear that the animal has a wound on his leg. The gland on the inner surface of the rear leg is the tarsal gland and serves to identify individuals.
Another habit they practice as a way of alarming their new owners is to sun bathe on the hottest days. They lay out on their side or back with their belly facing the sun and you can hardly detect even a small ear movement. It's only after you run out to them, completely sure that they have just died, that they will look up at you with that wide eyed, innocent surprised look.

When laying down, the llama is in an unusual kushed position. All four legs are tucked under and out of sight. This most likely is a trait that helps protect them from predators. Llamas normally do not like their heads or legs touched or held and will pull away. Since they are a prey animal, their legs are their main means of self defense as they can run and jump as swiftly as a deer.
When sleeping, they will sometimes lay their head straight out on the ground.

The length of llama wool varies from 3 to 10 inches on an adult, yielding from 3 to 4 pounds of wool per year. The texture of the llama's coat also varies from one with guard hairs and a thick undercoat to a single coated silky wool. Upon close investigation, you can see a fine crimp, just like an elastic zig-zag, in each individual hair which gives memory to the wool when spinning. Colors also greatly vary. Ranging from black to white, grays, browns, and reds, variety further continues with beautiful patterns from paints, appaloosas, and solids.

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