Banana Ears


That’s easy. Just look at their ears! While alpacas have cat-like ears…

Alpaca ears
Llama ears

…llamas have curved ears. Some say that llama ears remind them of Viking horns…

…while others liken llama ears to the Hawaiian “Shaka” sign. But the easiest way to discern whether you’re looking at a llama or an alpaca is to find the banana-shaped ears:

And those bananas are constantly in motion. That’s because llamas “talk” with their ears.

Animal behaviorists have yet to crack the code on exactly what llamas are saying to each other at all times, but a few ear positions are translatable. For example, perfectly formed banana ears reveal that the llama is content. Ears pointed forward mean that the llama is listening to what’s in front of him. Likewise, ears turned backward (yes, they can do that) mean that the llama is listening to sounds behind him. If the sound is particularly engaging, all the llamas in a pack will stand still and point their ears in the same direction. Llamas can also use their ears like individual radars, turning one ear forward and the other backward. Plus, they can turn their ears sideways, which looks hilarious.

Llamas can move their ears in many directions.

There is one llama ear position that you should pay special attention to:


This llama from Canada is giving spitting lessons.
Take note of a llama with ears in this position!

When a llama flattens his ears against his neck, he’s about to spit! Please don’t take this personally, because spitting is meant for the nearest llama, who is likely encroaching on the first llama’s personal space or is attempting to take a treat away. (Llamas don’t like to share.) “Spit happens” in a millisecond, and whatever bits of hay and saliva are in the llama’s mouth or throat is spewed forward like a shower.

If you ever find yourself standing in front of a llama with flat-back ears and head raised, your best defense to avoid the spit is to DUCK!

Llamas aren’t the only spitters in their family. Their distant cousin, the camel, has developed a reputation for spitting at people, and so have alpacas. Llamas generally spit the least overall, and rarely at people–unless provoked or in an environment they don’t feel safe, such as a wildlife attraction with many other animals nearby, or an interactive zoo (llamas don’t like to be touched).

Even though “spitty ears” are daunting, it’s fascinating to watch llamas move their ears. It looks like a dance, with the ears flexing like a ballerina stretching upward, forward, sideways and backward.

The next time you encounter a pack of llamas, watch their ears. What do you think they’re saying? I hope it’s a compliment about you!

Happy Trails from Mama Llama!

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