They are the humming, sociable, long-necked mammals that inspired our name. But llamas are much more than mascots. Friendly, intelligent, and sadly endangered, they are resilient creatures whose relationship with humanity dates back thousands of years.
They are so well-regarded, in fact, that they even have their own day — December 9, otherwise known as National Llama Day. And it is precisely for all species like the llama that we at SaltyLama work hard to help ensure a sustainable future teeming with life. But who is the llama? Have you ever made his acquaintance? If you have not yet had the opportunity to visit Peru, here are a few curious facts about these fascinating Andean animals.
1. The camel is their cousin
Did you know that the llama is a member of the camelid family? Many artiodactyl mammals belong to this group, including, of course, the camel, the dromedary, the alpaca, the vicuña, and the guanaco. Our llama friend is nothing more than a “domestic version” of the latter, which it resembles in appearance and behavior. But, while it is undoubtedly easy to guess the llama’s kinship with the guanaco or the alpaca, not everyone would have likened it to animals typical of Saharan areas, such as the camel. Yet they are cousins.
2. Llamas are smart and self-aware
Although comparing the intelligence of different species is never appropriate, we can consider llamas to be quite smart. That may also be why they were domesticated in Peru as many as 4,000 years ago. Indeed, these animals can understand and perform various activities, some of which are not to be taken for granted. Did you know, for example, that they can be taught how to use a mirror? Llamas also excel in one respect that often eludes many humans: knowing their limits. In fact, if you tried to load a llama with more weight than he can carry, he would most likely just lie down on the ground. It’s an attitude we could learn from — especially in some contemporary working environments.
3. They make great bodyguards
As we mentioned in our Halloween rundown of eco-friendly costumes, llamas make excellent guard animals. In fact, they have been hired for this purpose in North America since the 1980s. Their task? To protect sheep or even their cousins, the alpacas. By nature, the llama is inclined to protect animals with which it has established a bond — even if they belong to different species. This has made it a valuable ally for herds as it looks after the flocks while chasing away dangerous predators.
4. They are trusted friends
As you may have already guessed, the llama is known as a particularly sociable character. Naturally, he is used to living in herds with his peers, but he is certainly not the type to exclude others. In fact, groups of llamas have been known to take sheep and goats into their families — keeping them safe from coyotes and other predators.
5. They make excellent therapy animals
The llama’s social nature makes it a valuable friend, the kind that can offer you support at every opportunity. It will not only keep dangerous predators away from you and your home. It will also care for you through hardship. Today, llamas are trained as therapy animals, not unlike dogs. Once they have graduated, they make themselves useful by working in nursing homes, hospitals, and schools.
6. They aren’t shy about expressing their displeasure
Everyone knows the llama spits. This gesture is, among other things, their way of communicating that they feel threatened or that their personal space has been invaded. And they’re correct — everyone has a right to their personal space. So, you wouldn’t want to be around when a llama has decided to communicate its displeasure. True, it is quite rare for a llama to direct his spit at a human being (something his camel cousin will do without a second thought) but if they do, they are unlikely to miss. The llama’s green spit can reach you even 10 feet away.
7. They are quite chatty
If you are crazy about videos of huskies chatting with their owners, you will fall in love with llamas. These animals are very vocal, even singing! In fact, mama llamas hum to their babies, emitting a cry that they learn to recognize. But llamas also use their humming to communicate tiredness, anxiety, excitement, and curiosity. They really do their best to keep you informed of their opinions.
8. They may help eradicate the flu
Researchers are currently working on a universal flu vaccine, effective on every strain of the virus. And this is possible thanks to the llama's special antibodies! In fact, they can target various strains of flu all at once. Who knows, one day we might be able to do without the annual flu shot — thanks to the llama.
9. Mama llamas know their schedule
Gestation in llamas lasts about 350 days and usually only one baby is born at a time. The birth of a llama is extremely fast, taking about 30 minutes. Above all, Mama Llama follows her schedule scrupulously — she gives birth regularly in the morning, between 8 a.m. and noon. This way, the family can get together peacefully for lunch.
10. Everyone’s crazy about llamas — even Minecraft’s creators
Everyone adores llamas. Even the creators of the popular video game Minecraft, apparently. The llama’s reputation as an excellent pet, companion and guard animal must have reached them too. It’s possible to tame it within the game, along with horses, cats, donkeys and many more. What do you need? Five bales of hay and 10 bales of grain.
And now that you’ve gotten to know a few facts about our favorite animal, the llama, you can always visit them in person with a trip to the alpine slopes of Latin America!