What do you know about llamas? Where are they from? What animals are related to llamas? What role do they play in the Andes Mountains? Here are some fascinating llama facts, children’s books about llamas, a Peruvian celebration and more.
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If you look at a map of South America, you can trace the Andes Mountains along the west side of the continent from Colombia in the north, through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and way south to the tip of Chile. Llamas are one of the most common animals in the Andes, perfectly adapted to the harsh environment and rough terrain. They enjoy eating the grasses and plants available during the day, and heading to the hills for protection at night. Like camels, they can do without drinking for long periods; llamas get their water from food.
10 Fascinating Llama Facts
1. Llamas are related to camels: both are “camelids” with long necks, big eyes with long eyelashes, and long, thick fur to protect them from the rain and cold. But llamas have no humps!
2. There are 4 species of llamas:
- guanacos: wild llamas that can run 35 mph!
- llamas: domesticated guanacos
- vicuñas: wild animals half the size of llamas
- alpacas: domesticated vicuñas prized for their soft wool
3. Llamas were domesticated in what is now Peru about 4000-5000 years ago by the Incans.
4. People have relied on llamas for food, use their fiber for cloth, and keep llamas as pack animals to help with their work. Pack animals carry loads for people. They also use llama fat to make candles, llama droppings as fuel for fires, and llama skin for leather to make sandals.
5. Llamas are very strong: they can carry heavy loads for 18 miles in one day! It is easy for them to walk on steep, rocky ground because they have thick pads on their feet and 2 toes on each foot. If they are tired of carrying the load, or if the load is too heavy, llamas will lay down.
6. A baby is called a cría. Crías weigh 25-30 pounds, about as heavy as a medium-sized dog. They can stand one and a half hours after birth, and have a very soft coat. Crías love to play, and drink their mom’s milk.
7. To keep clean, llamas roll in a dust bath!
8. Llamas can grow to 5-6 ft tall (as tall as an adult person!), but weigh 200-400 lbs, heavier than 5 second graders!
9. Llamas are great at communicating with each other using movements of their ears, bodies, and tails. They also use sounds to communicate, such as humming, sounding a high, loud alarm sound, or grunting. When males fight they scream, and llamas spit to warn other llamas to stay away from its food.
10. Llamas live in groups called herds and are very gentle creatures. They will fight with predators (and sometimes each other), so some people train them to guard sheep from predators like coyotes.
Llamas and the Incans
As mentioned above, the Incans domesticated llamas in the highlands of what is now Peru, about 4000-5000 years ago. The vicuñas were particularly special to the Incans because they have extremely soft wool. In fact, only kings were allowed to wear clothing made of their fur, and no one was allowed to kill a vicuña.
Today, people living in the mountains near Cuzco, Arequipa, and other areas in the Peruvian highlands do annual round-ups of vicñuas just like Incans did. The festival of “chaccu” (or el chaco) lasts all day as hundreds of volunteers herd the vicuñas into a pen, shear the wool, and let them go:
Children’s Books about Llamas
The Littlest Llama by Jane Buxton (ages 3+). Cute story about a playful llama with lovely illustrations that show typical scenes of the Andes.
Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino and illustrated by Steven Kellogg (ages 3-8). No South American culture, but a sweet rhyming book about a little llama looking for its mama.
Maria Had a Little Llama / María Tenía Una Llamita by Angela Dominguez (ages 3-8). Playful twist on “Mary had a little lamb,” about María and her pet llama, and their trip to a school in a small Andean village.
Carolina’s Gift: A Story of Peru by Katacha Diaz (ages 4+). Great book about Peruvian culture from a child’s perspective.
The Llama’s Secret – A Peruvian Legend by Palacios (ages 7+). For older kids interested in folktales, this is Peru’s version of the “Flood” story.
A Child’s Life in the Andes is an ebook that brings the Andean culture alive with rich photographs, great information as well as activities, coloring pages (even a llama!), language pages and a word search. There is a great Andean music CD that is included.
For Fun: Adorable Llama Toys!