|A llama lying down.|
|Domestic llama and alpaca range
(according to Daniel W. Gade)
The height of a full-grown, full-size llama is 1.7 to 1.8 m (5.5 to 6.0 ft) tall at the top of the head, and can weigh between 130 and 200 kg (280 to 450 lb). At birth, a baby llama (called a cria) can weigh between 9 and 14 kg (20 and 30 lb). Llamas typically live for 15-25 years, with some individuals surviving 30 years or more.  
They are very social animals and live with other llamas as a herd. The wool produced by a llama is very soft and lanolin-free. Llamas are intelligent and can learn simple tasks after a few repetitions. When using a pack, they can carry about 25% to 30% of their body weight for 8–13 km (5–8 miles).
Llamas appear to have originated from the central plains of North America about 40 million years ago. They migrated to South America about three million years ago. By the end of the last ice age (10,000–12,000 years ago), camelids were extinct in North America. As of 2007, there were over seven million llamas and alpacas in South America, and due to importation from South America in the late 20th century, there are now over 158,000 llamas and 100,000 alpacas in the United States and Canada.
Lamoids, or llamas (as they are more generally known as a group), consist of the vicuña (Vicugna vicugna, prev. Lama vicugna), guanaco (Lama guanicoe), Suri alpaca, and Huacaya alpaca (Vicugna pacos, prev. Lama guanicoe pacos), and the domestic llama (Lama guanicoe glama). Guanacos and vicuñas live in the wild, while alpacas – as well as llamas – exist only as domesticated animals. Although early writers compared llamas to sheep, their similarity to the camel was soon recognized. They were included in the genus Camelus along with alpaca in the Systema Naturae (1758) of Linnaeus. They were, however, separated by Cuvier in 1800 under the name of lama along with the guanaco. Alpacas and vicuñas are in genus Vicugna. The genera Lama and Vicugna are, with the two species of true camels, the sole existing representatives of a very distinct section of the Artiodactyla or even-toed ungulates, called Tylopoda, or "bump-footed", from the peculiar bumps on the soles of their feet. The Tylopoda consist of a single family, the Camelidae, and shares the order Artiodactyla with the Suina (pigs), the Tragulina (chevrotains), the Pecora (ruminants), and the Whippomorpha (hippos and cetaceans, which belong to Artiodactyla from a cladistic, if not traditional, standpoint). The Tylopoda have more or less affinity to each of the sister taxa, standing in some respects in a middle position between them, sharing some characteristics from each, but in others showing special modifications not found in any of the other taxa.
The 19th-century discoveries of a vast and previously unexpected extinct Paleogene fauna of North America, as interpreted by paleontologists Leidy, Cope, and Marsh, aided understanding of the early history of this family. Llamas were not always confined to South America; abundant llama-like remains were found in Pleistocene deposits in the Rocky Mountains and in Central America. Some of the fossil llamas were much larger than current forms. Some species remained in North America during the last ice ages. North American llamas are categorized as a single extinct genus, Hemiauchenia. Llama-like animals would have been a common sight 25,000 years ago, in modern-day California, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Missouri, and Florida.
The camelid lineage has a good fossil record. Camel-like animals have been traced from the thoroughly differentiated, modern species back through early Miocene forms. Their characteristics became more general, and they lost those that distinguished them as camelids; hence, they were classified as ancestral artiodactyls. No fossils of these earlier forms have been found in the Old World, indicating that North America was the original home of camelids, and that Old World camels crossed over via the Bering Land Bridge. The formation of the Isthmus of Panama three million years ago allowed camelids to spread to South America as part of the Great American Interchange, where they evolved further. Meanwhile, North American camelids died out at the end of the Pleistocene.
The following characteristics apply especially to llamas. Dentition of adults:-incisors 1/3 canines 1/1, premolars 2/2, molars 3/2; total 32. In the upper jaw, a compressed, sharp, pointed laniariform incisor near the hinder edge of the premaxilla is followed in the male at least by a moderate-sized, pointed, curved true canine in the anterior part of the maxilla. The isolated canine-like premolar which follows in the camels is not present. The teeth of the molar series which are in contact with each other consist of two very small premolars (the first almost rudimentary) and three broad molars, constructed generally like those of Camelus. In the lower jaw, the three incisors are long, spatulate, and procumbent; the outer ones are the smallest. Next to these is a curved, suberect canine, followed after an interval by an isolated minute and often deciduous simple conical premolar; then a contiguous series of one premolar and three molars, which differ from those of Camelus in having a small accessory column at the anterior outer edge.
The skull generally resembles that of Camelus, the larger brain-cavity and orbits and less-developed cranial ridges being due to its smaller size. The nasal bones are shorter and broader, and are joined by the premaxilla.
The ears are rather long and slightly curved inward, characteristically known as "banana" shaped. There is no dorsal hump. The feet are narrow, the toes being more separated than in the camels, each having a distinct plantar pad. The tail is short, and fibre is long, woolly and soft.
In essential structural characteristics, as well as in general appearance and habits, all the animals of this genus very closely resemble each other, so whether they should be considered as belonging to one, two, or more species is a matter of controversy among naturalists.
The question is complicated by the circumstance of the great majority of individuals which have come under observation being either in a completely or partially domesticated state. Many are also descended from ancestors which have previously been domesticated, a state which tends to produce a certain amount of variation from the original type. The four forms commonly distinguished by the inhabitants of South America are recognized as distinct species, though with difficulties in defining their distinctive characteristics.
The llama and alpaca are only known in the domestic state, and are variable in size and of many colors, being often white, brown, or piebald. Some are grey or black. The guanaco and vicuña are wild, the former being endangered, and of a nearly uniform light-brown color, passing into white below. They certainly differ from each other, the vicuña being smaller, more slender in its proportions, and having a shorter head than the guanaco. The vicuña lives in herds on the bleak and elevated parts of the mountain range bordering the region of perpetual snow, amidst rocks and precipices, occurring in various suitable localities throughout Peru, in the southern part of Ecuador, and as far south as the middle of Bolivia. Its manners very much resemble those of the chamois of the European Alps; it is as vigilant, wild, and timid. The fiber is extremely delicate and soft, and highly valued for the purposes of weaving, but the quantity which each animal produces is minimal. Alpacas are descended from wild vicuna ancestors, while domesticated llamas are descended from wild guanaco ancestors, though a considerable amount of hybridization between the two species has occurred.
Differential characteristics between llamas and alpacas include the llama's larger size, longer head, and curved ears. Alpaca fiber is generally more expensive, but not always more valuable. Alpacas tend to have a more consistent color throughout the body. The most apparent visual difference between llamas and camels is that camels have a hump or humps and llamas do not.
Llamas have an unusual reproductive cycle for a large animal. Female llamas are induced ovulators. Through the act of mating, the female releases an egg and is often fertilized on the first attempt. Female llamas do not go into estrus ("heat").
Like humans, llama males and females mature sexually at different rates. Females reach puberty at about 12 months old; males do not become sexually mature until around three years of age.
Llamas mate with the female in a kush (lying down) position, which is fairly unusual in a large animal. They mate for an extended period of time (20–45 minutes), also unusual in a large animal.
The gestation period of a llama is 11.5 months (350 days). Dams (female llamas) do not lick off their babies, as they have an attached tongue which does not reach outside of the mouth more than half an inch (1.3 cm). Rather, they will nuzzle and hum to their newborns.
A cria (from Spanish for "baby") is the name for a baby llama, alpaca, vicuña, or guanaco. Crias are typically born with all the females of the herd gathering around, in an attempt to protect against the male llamas and potential predators. Llamas give birth standing. Birth is usually quick and problem-free, over in less than 30 minutes. Most births take place between 8 am and noon, during the warmer daylight hours. This may increase cria survival by reducing fatalities due to hypothermia during cold Andean nights. This birthing pattern is speculated to be a continuation of the birthing patterns observed in the wild. Crias are up and standing, walking and attempting to suckle within the first hour after birth. Crias are partially fed with llama milk that is lower in fat and salt and higher in phosphorus and calcium than cow or goat milk. A female llama will only produce about 60 ml (2.1 imp fl oz) of milk at a time when she gives milk, so the cria must suckle frequently to receive the nutrients it requires.
In harem breeding, the male is left with females most of the year.
For field breeding, a female is turned out into a field with a male llama and left there for some period of time. This is the easiest method in terms of labor, but the least useful in terms of prediction of a likely birth date. An ultrasound test can be performed, and together with the exposure dates, a better idea of when the cria is expected can be determined.
Hand breeding is the most efficient method, but requires the most work on the part of the human involved. A male and female llama are put into the same pen and breeding is monitored. They are then separated and rebred every other day until one or the other refuses the breeding. Usually, one can get in two breedings using this method, though some studs have routinely refused to breed a female more than once. The separation presumably helps to keep the sperm count high for each breeding and also helps to keep the condition of the female llama's reproductive tract more sound. If the breeding is not successful within two to three weeks, the female is bred once again.
Llamas should be tested for pregnancy after breeding at two to three, six and at least 12 weeks.
Spit testing with an intact male is generally free and is usually accurate. However, some hormonal conditions in females can make them reject a male when they are in fact not pregnant, and, more rarely, accept a male when they are pregnant. Progesterone tests can give a high reading in some females with a hormonal problem which are in fact not pregnant. Neither of the previous methods, nor palpation, can give a reasonably accurate idea of the age of the fetus, while an ultrasound procedure can. In addition, an ultrasound procedure can distinguish between pregnancy and misleading physical conditions, or between a live and dead fetus. The disadvantages of an ultrasound procedure are cost, some training in the use of ultrasound equipment is required, and not all veterinarians have the equipment needed to perform the examination.
Options for feeding llamas are quite wide; a wide variety of commercial and farm-based feeds are available. The major determining factors include feed cost, availability, nutrient balance and energy density required. Young, actively growing llamas require a greater concentration of nutrients than mature animals because of their smaller digestive tract capacities.
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Llamas which are well-socialized and trained to halter and lead after weaning are very friendly and pleasant to be around. They are extremely curious and most will approach people easily. However, llamas that are bottle-fed or over-socialized and over-handled as youth will become extremely difficult to handle when mature, when they will begin to treat humans as they treat each other, which is characterized by bouts of spitting, kicking and neck wrestling. Anyone having to bottle-feed a cria should keep contact to a minimum and stop as soon as possible.
When correctly reared, llamas spitting at a human is a rare thing. Llamas are very social herd animals, however, and do sometimes spit at each other as a way of disciplining lower-ranked llamas in the herd. A llama's social rank in a herd is never static. They can always move up or down in the social ladder by picking small fights. This is usually done between males to see which will become dominant. Their fights are visually dramatic, with spitting, ramming each other with their chests, neck wrestling and kicking, mainly to knock the other off balance. The females are usually only seen spitting as a means of controlling other herd members.
While the social structure might always be changing, they live as a family and they do take care of each other. If one notices a strange noise or feels threatened, a warning bray is sent out and all others become alert. They will often hum to each other as a form of communication.
The sound of the llama making groaning noises or going "mwa" is often a sign of fear or anger. If a llama is agitated, it will lay its ears back. One may determine how agitated the llama is by the materials in the spit. The more irritated the llama is, the further back into each of the three stomach compartments it will try to draw materials from for its spit.
An "orgle" is the mating sound of a llama or alpaca, made by the sexually aroused male. The sound is reminiscent of gargling, but with a more forceful, buzzing edge. Males begin the sound when they become aroused and continue throughout the act of procreation – from 15 minutes to more than an hour.
Using llamas as livestock guards in North America began in the early 1980s, and some sheep producers have used llamas successfully since then. They are used most commonly in the in western regions of the United States, where larger predators, such as the coyote as well as feral dogs, are prevalent. Typically, a single gelding (castrated male) is used.
Research suggests the use of multiple guard llamas is not as effective as one. Multiple males tend to bond with one another, rather than with the livestock, and may ignore the flock. A gelded male of two years of age bonds closely with its new charges and is instinctively very effective in preventing predation. Some llamas appear to bond more quickly to sheep or goats if they are introduced just prior to lambing. Many sheep and goat producers indicate a special bond quickly develops between lambs and their guard llama and the llama is particularly protective of the lambs.
Using llamas as guards has eliminated the losses to predators for many producers. The value of the livestock saved each year more than exceeds the purchase cost and annual maintenance of a llama. Although not every llama is suited to the job, most are a viable, nonlethal alternative for reducing predation, requiring no training and little care.
The Moche people frequently placed llamas and llama parts in the burials of important people, as offerings or provisions for the afterlife. The Moche culture of pre-Columbian Peru depicted llamas quite realistically in their ceramics.
In the Inca empire, llamas were the only beasts of burden, and many of the people dominated by the Inca had long traditions of llama herding. For the Inca nobility, the llama was of symbolic significance, and llama figures were often buried with the dead. In South America, llamas are still used as beasts of burden, as well as for the production of fiber and meat.
One of the main uses for llamas at the time of the Spanish conquest was to bring down ore from the mines in the mountains. Gregory de Bolivar estimated that in his day, as many as 300 thousand were employed in the transport of produce from the Potosí mines alone, but since the introduction of horses, mules, and donkeys, the importance of the llama as a beast of burden has greatly diminished.
Llamas have a fine undercoat which can be used for handicrafts and garments. The coarser outer guard hair is used for rugs, wall-hangings and lead ropes. The fiber comes in many different colors ranging from white or grey to reddish-brown, brown, dark brown and black.
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