Llamas. Beautiful, regal, intelligent, and highly complex creatures. They are fascinating to watch, and being around them gives one the feeling of being in the presence of royalty.
Understanding the behavior of these animals is important to anyone who might be considering keeping them or their close cousins, alpacas; or even to anyone who may be around them for whatever reason.
We should probably look at the thing most people think of first when they think of llamas: spitting.
DO LLAMAS REALLY SPIT?
Yes, they do. But if you understand the reasons why they do this, you’ll soon see that it isn’t something you really need to be concerned about. Llamas are members of the camelid family, meaning they are related to camels. All camelids have the ability to spit. However, only rarely is this unpleasant action aimed at humans. Usually it is targeted at other llamas over feeding disputes or other disagreements. When a llama spits, it is actually spraying stomach contents at others. Not something you’d want to be the recipient of, that’s for sure!
Even when a human is the target, the llama will usually give several warning signs before letting fly. An angry llama will look angry. It will lay its ears flat against its head, and will have a distinct glare in its eyes. This is a clue. If the animal is annoyed, simply leave it alone. Don’t keep pushing its buttons.
Before a llama spits, it usually will raise its head with its nose pointed skyward a few times. This is because it’s bringing up the contents of its stomach to spit on someone or something. If you see a llama doing this, get away. Fast!
Llamas and alpacas are very social. They do best when kept with others of their own kind. Or, as a substitute, other livestock can become a new herd. Llamas will bond closely with their other herd members, and often protect them. In fact, this is the reason why llamas are often kept as guard animals for sheep and goats, protecting them from coyotes, dogs, and even mountain lions.
One true story aired on television a few years ago about that very thing. A llama had nearly sacrificed its own life to save a flock of sheep from a cougar attack. The llama was badly wounded by the big cat, but fortunately survived. It was so fiercely protective of its adopted “family” that it would not let any harm come to them, even if it meant it had to die in their place!
Herds of llamas will create a dung pile, or several dung piles, in certain areas of the pasture. These are used as the official “toilet area” shared by all the animals. They will both defecate and urinate only on these piles, which gives a rather clean pasture compared to many other livestock, which tend not to be so discriminating. Dung piles are also often a form of marking territory.
Llamas are not noisy creatures. They do make some sounds, the loudest being a shrill alarm cry if they sense danger, such as a predator. They can make clicking and gurgling sounds as well, but not commonly.
The most common sound you’ll hear from a llama is a hum. Llamas use this sound for a variety of reasons. For years, people have assumed that it was similar to a cat’s purr: a sign of happiness and contentment. But they more likely hum if they are nervous or uncomfortable, or even tired. This would explain why you’ll often hear llamas humming in places such as the county fair, where they are in unfamiliar surroundings with strange people constantly trying to pet them.
On the other hand, a mother llama will often communicate with her cria (baby) through hums.
One thing that bears mentioning is what’s known as Berserk Male Syndrome. As the name suggests, it usually affects male animals; although very rarely females can display similar behavior too.
It’s believed to be caused when a male cria is removed from its mother at too early an age and bottle-fed. Additionally, when people use llama behaviors when playing with the baby, the cria tends to bond too closely to humans and view them as other llamas.
When llamas see you as an equal, they can become more and more aggressive and combative, to the point where they may actually attack and injure you. Unfortunately, llamas that display this behavior are often destroyed, as it’s incurable.
When a llama lays down with its legs neatly tucked beneath its body, this is referred to as “cushing”. This is a common position taken when the animal is chewing its cud.
Llamas, like horses, also enjoy a good roll. While it may seem contradictory, rolling in dirt or dust actually helps maintain the fiber (wool) coat and keep it clean. Overall, llamas are very clean animals.
The above is just a partial list and explanation of the many, many complex behaviors of the lovely, elegant creature known as a llama!