Long-necked Llamas


One distinguishing feature of the llama is its long, woolly neck, which measures nearly the length of its back. Standing erect, the llama’s neck and mane make the animal look athletic and regal.

Dalai Llama

But when the neck is shorn, the llama looks, well, rather amusing.

Under its gorgeous mane is a shockingly thin neck.

Dalai Llama's Long, Skinny Neck is Revealed!

Such long, skinny necks are very useful. Llamas use it as a tool to steal leaves, to swing threateningly at predators, to wrestle with other llamas, and to provide a counterbalance when rising from a seated or lying position.

Even so, rising is an awkward movement for the llama. This animal experiences locked knees until it stretches out. Only then will the front knees bend so the animal can sit down. Llamas move into the seated position the way a camel does.

The llama’s front legs bend at the knee, but the back legs bend at the hip.

So to rise from a seated position, llamas have to lean forward on their front legs and push off on their back legs.

Try standing on all fours and rising with your back legs straight. It’s not easy!

Can’t do it? Try swinging your neck to provide some momentum. That works out beautifully for the llama.

The most remarkable fact about the llama’s neck is how enough blood can travel such a great distance from the heart all the way to the head. Llamas accomplish this with ease through specially designed elliptical (oval) blood cells. Most other mammals, including humans, have round blood cells, which are smaller than the llama’s. Elliptical cells carry extra blood—and just the right amount to compensate for the length that blood must travel in the amazing llama. These oval shaped cells are also very stable.

In comparison, the world’s longest-necked animal—the giraffe—has a completely different system for blood circulation from its heart to its head. With a neck length of six feet, the giraffe is designed with an unusually large heart, weighing 25 pounds and measuring nearly two-feet long. This large heart generates almost double the blood pressure of a human heart at 150 beats per minute. Yet this animal does not experience backflow when it lowers its head, thanks to seven one-way valves in the jugular veins, along with blood vessels in the animal’s lower legs that maintain balanced blood pressure.

So giraffes and llamas both have long necks and compensating blood-pressure systems. But are they related? After all, they both chew their cud, and they are both classified in the Order Artiodactlya.

However, the llama’s taxonomy Family is called Camelidae—with the alpaca, guanaco, vicuna, and camel (a distant relative) in their Family. The giraffe’s Family is called Giraffidae, and its relatives are extinct, except for the okapi, which looks more like a zebra than a giraffe.

The okapi is the giraffe’s only relative.

More importantly, the llama is fully domesticated, while the giraffe is a wild animal.

They are NOT relatives, but it is understandable that many people think they are.

On your next trip to a local zoo or animal adventure park, count how many long-necked animals there are. Then ask Google or the zookeepers how these animals can reach for the highest leaves of the trees or lower their necks to drink water yet still receive just the right amount of blood flow to their brains. You’ll be surprised by the many ways this is accomplished in nature.

Happy Trails from Mama Llama!

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