) is a large camelid that originated in
North America and then later on moved on to South America. The term llama
is sometimes used more broadly, to indicate any of the four closely related
animals that make up the South American branch of the family Camelidae: the true
llama, the vicuña, alpaca, and guanaco. They were used as a system of
transportation for the Incas.
Differentiating characteristics between llamas and alpacas are that llamas
are larger and have more elongated heads. Alpacas also have a more luxurious
wool than llamas.
The most apparent visual difference between llamas and camels is that camels
have a hump or humps and llamas do not.
Although they were often compared by early writers to sheep and spoken of as
such, their affinity to the camel was very soon perceived. They were included in
the genus Camelus in the Systema Naturae of Linnaeus. They were,
however, separated by Cuvier in 1800 under the name of Lama along with
the alpaca and the guanaco. Vicuñas are in genus Vicugna. The animals of
the genus Lama 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, on which they tread. This section thus consists of a single
family, the Camelidae, the other sections of the same great division
being the Suina or pigs, the Tragulina or chevrotains, and the
Pecora or true ruminants, to each of which the Tylopoda have more or
less affinity, standing in some respects in a central position between them,
borrowing as it were some characters from each, but in others showing great
special modifications not found in any of the other sections.
The discoveries of a vast and previously unsuspected extinct fauna of the
American continent of the Tertiary period, as interpreted by the
palaeontologists Leidy, Cope, and Marsh, has thrown a flood of light upon the
early history of this family, and upon its relations to other mammals.
It is now known that llamas at one time were not confined to the part of the
continent south of the Isthmus of Panama, as at the present day, for their
remains have been abundantly found in the Pleistocene deposits of the region of
the Rocky Mountains, and in Central America, some attaining a much larger size
than those now existing. Some species of llamas did stay in North America during
the last ice ages. 25,000 years ago, llamas would have been a common sight in
modern-day California, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Missouri, and Florida. These
North American llamas belong to a single genera, Hemiauchenia, which is
Many camel-like animals exhibiting different genetic modifications and a
gradual series of changes, coinciding with the antiquity of the deposits in
which they are found, have been traced from the thoroughly differentiated
species of the modern epoch down through the Pliocene to the early Miocene beds.
Their characters having become more generalized, they have lost all that
especially distinguishes them as Camelidae: they are merged into forms
common to the ancestral type of all the other sections of the Artiodactyles.
Hitherto none of these annectant forms have been found in any of the
fossiliferous strata of the Old World; it may therefore be fairly surmised
(according to the evidence at present before us) that the Americas were the
original home of the Tylopoda, and that the true camels have passed over into
the Old World, probably by way of north Asia. Gradually driven southward,
perhaps by changes of climate, and having become isolated, they have undergone
further special modifications. Meanwhile, those members of the family that
remained in their original birthplace have become, through causes not clearly
understood, restricted solely to the southern or most distant part of the
continent. There are few groups of mammals for which the palaeontological
history has been so satisfactorily demonstrated as the llama.
llama in the Rocky Mountain National Park
The following characters 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 there is a compressed, sharp, pointed laniariform incisor near the
hinder edge of the premaxilla, 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 relatively 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
- cervical 7,
- dorsal 12,
- lumbar 7,
- sacral 4,
- caudal 15 to 20.
Ears are rather long and pointed. There is no dorsal hump. Feet are narrow,
the toes being more separated than in the camels, each having a distinct plantar
pad. The tail is short, and fur is long and woolly.
In essential structural characters, as well as in general appearance and
habits, all the animals of this genus very closely resemble each other, so that
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. It has, however, lost much of its importance
since the doctrine of the distinct origin of species has been generally
abandoned. The four forms commonly distinguished by the inhabitants of South
America are recognized by some naturalists as distinct species, and have had
specific designations attached to them, though usually with expressions of
doubt, and with great difficulties in defining their distinctive
- the llama, Auchenia glama (Linn.), or Lama peruana
- the alpaca, A. pacos (Linn.);
- the guanaco or huanaco, A. huonaeus (Molina); and
- the vicuña, A. vicugna (Molina), or A. vicuiena, (Cuv.).
The llama and alpaca are only known in the domestic state, and are variable
in size and colour, being often white, black, or piebald. The guanaco and vicuña
are wild and endangered, and of a nearly uniform light-brown colour, 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 wool is extremely delicate and soft, and highly valued for
the purposes of weaving, but the quantity which each animal produces is minimal.
Llamas who are well-socialized and brought up by loving families are very
friendly and pleasant to be around. They are extremely curious and most will
approach people easily. Occasionally, llamas do spit at each other or people.
The habit of spitting is a defence mechanism. However, usually, a llama would
prefer to run away before confronting their assumed aggressor. The spitting
behaviour is believed to be a direct result of their usually shy disposition.
The sound of the llama making groaning noises or going "mwa" is often a sign
of fear or anger. If a llama is agitated, she or he will lay his or her 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.
One of the principal labours to which the llamas were subjected at the time
of the Spanish conquest was that of bringing down ore from the mines in the
mountains. Gregory de Bolivar estimated that in his day as many as three hundred
thousand were employed in the transport of the produce of the mines of Potosí
alone, but since the introduction of horses, mules, and donkeys, the importance
of the llama as a beast of burden has greatly diminished.
Llamas in popular culture
The term "llama" has become popular amongst Internet denizens; especially
gamers. Generally used as a derogatory title, a llama is usually a newbie
or a person that does not play the game very well and is frequently used
synonymously with the term lamer (both expressions also sound similar).
Most prevalent among games that are played simultaneously by many people online,
such as team games, a llama will invariably detract from the gaming experience
of others due to his own ignorance or intentional disruption. The term llama was
adopted by the earliest of online gamers being a frequent insult used among
Quake players and Quake teams (known as a Clan).
In some games, especially those with deployable constructs, Players would
sometimes go "llama boxing". This is when they trick the "llamas" in to a trap.
The term is also applied to gamers who are intentionally annoying to other
players, usually as a mean to distract them, by doing things such as using
duplicate or blank names, talking nonsense, choosing the corniest characters,
weapons, whatever available, etc.
The llama is frequently referenced by the music program Winamp and
Maxis/Electronic Arts's line of "Sim" games. SimCity's second lowest
speed is "llama speed", SimLife organisms occasionally say "I'm a
llama," and in SimCity 4, the cheat code "Dollyllama" would turn advisors
into llamas. Also, the llama consistently appears in the game The Sims 2,
usually in random events (example: a detective must uncover the "Maltese llama",
or a hospital worker must treat a llama). Winamp's apothegms include "Winamp
- It really whips the llama's ass" and "Winamp - llama tested, mother
approved". The phrase "The llama is a quadruped", (a quote the Llama sketch
in episode 9 of Monty Python's Flying Circus) is also a SimCity 3000 cheat code.
Also, when SimCity 3000 is first booted up, it provides a tip, with the heading,
'The Llama Suggests', instead of 'Tip of the Day', as one might expect.
Jeff Minter's fascination for the animal, leading to the release of Atari ST
titles such as Attack of the Mutant Camels, llamatron and llamazap for the
software house llamasoft could be the origin of llama interest in the gaming
The Naked Dancing Llama, an online advice giving "sage", frolics about and
gives humorous advice to netsurfers. Finally, a popular Internet Flash cartoon,
known as The Llama Song by Burton Earny, pays homage to the llama. The llama is
also celebrated by the organization PALS (Partially Active llamas Society). PALS
is dedicated to helping all llamas.
The llama also graces the cover of O'Reilly's "Learning Perl" book,
presumably for its reputation of being a beast of burden and for being related
to the camel, which is perl's mascot.
List of notable llamas
- The animated movie The Emperor's New Groove features Emperor Kuzco,
voiced by David Spade, who gets transformed into a llama.
- In the movie Napoleon Dynamite Napoleon's Grandmother keeps a pet
llama named Tina.
- Carl Wheezer, a character on Nickelodeon's The Adventures of Jimmy
Neutron, has a seemingly unhealthy obsession with llamas.
- The llama is the official mascot of Simon's Rock College due to the
proximity of the college soccer fields to a llama farm.
- A character in the popular British radio soap opera The Archers,
Lynda Snell, owns a pair of llamas named Wolfgang and Constanza.
- An indie guitar act from the UK, the Llama Farmers, have taken the animal
for their name.
- An episode of the animated television series Camp Lazlo called "Loogie
Llama" features a llama that been adopted by the residents of Camp Kidney as a
- A llama is a term used by some fans of the game show Who Wants To Be A
Millionaire? for a contestant who gets one of the first five questions
wrong, leaving with no money. This term originates from a contestant (Robby
Roseman of Chicago) who incorrectly answered the first question, which asked
what animal Hannibal rode over the Alps on the way to Rome. He chose llama over
the correct answer of elephant.
- A llama is featured in the computer game Bureaucracy, co-authored by
Douglas Adams, who supposedly spent some time at a llama farm during
brainstorming sessions for the game.
- "The Llama Song" is a comical song by Burton Earny, available on the
Internet accompanied by a Flash-animated series of photos.
- Certain games such as The Sims 2 from Maxis feature references to llamas.
- The Push Me Pull You is a two-headed llama in the Rex Harrison film
- In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid a large white llama is tied to
a fence when Butch, Sundance, and Etta get off the train in Peru.
- In the MMORPG Ultima Online, when an Energy Vortex is summoned, it will
occasionally appear as a purple llama. The game also includes llamas as rideable
mounts, as well as numerous other references to llamas.
- A portion of the opening credits for Monty Python and the Holy Grail give
the impression that the entire film was created by Llamas.
- In one of his "Far Side" strips, the cartoonist Gary Larson depicted two
llamas inside a house, one reading a newspaper and the other looking out the
window at a third llama approaching the house while carrying a briefcase. The
one looking out the window says, "Llook out, Llarry -- it's the llandllord!"
- A song by the band Phish on album Picture of Nectar.