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Conservation status: Domesticated

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Camelidae
Genus: Lama
Species: L. glama
Lama glama
( Linnaeus, 1758)
The llama (Lama glama) 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.Differentiating characteristics between llamas and alpacas are that llamas are larger and have more elongated heads. The main difference between llamas and camels is that camels have a hump or humps and llamas do not.

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Etymology and discovery
Llamas in popular culture

Etymology and discovery - Contents

Llama, sometimes rendered lama in the 1900s, is a word used by the Peruvians to designate one of a small group of closely associated animals, which, before the Spanish conquest of the Americas, were the only domesticated ungulates of the country. While the prounciation in Spanish is closer to 'yama' it is pronunced in the English speaking world as 'lama'.It is believed that Francisco Pizarro and his band of Spanish conquistadors first encountered the llama in 1528, describing them as "little camels".[ citation needed] The llamas were kept not only for their value as beasts of burden, but also for their flesh, hides, and wool. In fact, llamas were used in place of the horse, the ox, the goat, and the sheep of the Old World. The word is now mainly restricted to one particular species or variety of the group, and sometimes used in a generic sense to cover the whole. Llamas are seeing increasing use in North America as fiber producing animals and as guard animals for sheep herds, which they protect from coyote attacks.

Classification - Contents

A domesticated llama
A domesticated llama
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.
A llama overlooking Machu Picchu, Peru
A llama overlooking Machu Picchu, Peru
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 presently extinct.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.

Characteristics - Contents

Llama head
Llama head
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 premaxilla. Vertebrae:
  • 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 characteristics.These are:
  • the llama, Auchenia glama (Linn.), or Lama peruana (Tiedemann);
  • 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.

Behavior - Contents

Many llamas can be easily annoyed or scared. The sound of the llama making groaning noises or going "mwa" is often a very good sign of fear or anger. Typically, they are a bit timid or standoffish in nature. If annoyed they make a clucking noise as they are spitting up stomach acid. Llamas can spit so hard that it can bruise the skin. If a llama is agitated, they will lay their ears back. The habit of spitting in the face of persons whose presence annoys them is common to all llamas, as may be witnessed in specimens in confinement in zoos. This is a defense mechanism. However, usually, a llama would prefer to run away than to confront their assumed aggressor, and is not always a frequent occurrence. 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 - Contents

As comedy
There is something very comical about llamas that people in Anglo Saxon cultures seem to enjoy. The name itself is comical to English-speakers: an Ogden Nash poem enumerates the difference between a "one-l lama" and a "two-l llama". Monty Python's Flying Circus's "the llama is a quadruped" sketch is generally considered the first use of llamas in television comedy; the character discusses the already unusual physique of the llama with ridiculous exaggerations. A host of llamas are listed as directors of Monty Python and the holy grail.

Computer culture
Perhaps because of this comical perception, 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).Additionally, the term llama, in relation to online team gaming competitions, can also be construed as being a non-accepted match forfeit. Derived from "lamer" the same as the above version of "llama", this means that one online team made a challenge, through an organized Internet game competition site such as, to another team and the second team failed to respond to the acceptance and the first team was thereby awarded a forfeit.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 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" is also a SimCity 3000 cheat code. 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 community.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 an emperor, voiced by David Spade, who gets transformed into a llama.
  • The main character in the movie Napoleon Dynamite 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. The anime convention scheduled to occur there in February 2006 is called Llamacon for this reason.
  • 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 Camp Lazlo called "Loogie Llama" features a llama that been adopted by the residents of Camp Kidney as a riding animal.
  • 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 stems from a contestant who blew the first question asking 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 Infocom game "Bureaucracy", co-authored by Douglas Adams, who supposedly spent some time at a llama farm during brainstorming sessions for the game.
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