Of Mice and Popcorn?

Guess what it smells like when llamas release a hormone to warn the rest of their pack that danger is lurking?

Some say it smells like the odor of mice (yuck!), while others liken it to burned, buttered or caramel popcorn. It depends on the llama whether the scent is mousy or reminiscent of a variety of Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn line. In the same way, when humans feel threatened, we release a scent from a gland under our arms. Some of us don’t smell too awful, while others definitely do! So it depends on the llama’s own level of hormones whether you’ll be treated to the aroma of popcorn or the wonky smell of mice.


Mama Llama smelled the llama hormone a couple years ago during a Llama Walk, when the pack was passing through the middle of a large, grassy field. Out of nowhere, the scent of popcorn filled the air! Of course there was no popcorn stand in the field, so how was this possible? Then Mama Llama remembered about llamas releasing a scent when these animals experience fear. The scented llamas were yearlings, and yearlings are prone to overreacting. Maybe a dog that looked like a coyote came into view? If so, it was long gone, but the popcorn scent lingered. It was as strong as the scent of popcorn sold in carts at Disneyland, where blowers send the enticing aroma at the crowd. There was no need for anyone to dip their head to take in the smell. And that would be a bad idea, anyway, because llamas have powerful legs used to accelerate quickly and to kick predators. They don’t kick people without provocation, but they do have a reflexive response to kick out if you grab their legs. Good to know!


That day in the field, it was Bahama Llama sending a buttered popcorn scent our way. Dalai Llama, however, let out a burned popcorn smell. That was unpleasant, but at least it didn’t smell like mice!


Llamas release their scent from oval-shaped, leathery glands located on their lower back legs (metatarsals). Here’s what that patch looks like, courtesy of the very handsome Dalai Llama:

Dalai Llama's Metatarsal Scent Glands

On numerous Llama Walks, people have noticed Dalai Llama’s lovely scent glands and have asked if he had a boo-boo. Nope! Scent glands are just highly visible on light-colored llamas. Every llama has scent glands, but most of these narrow patches are covered by wool. Dalai Llama is a Peruvian llama, which are known to have relatively little wool below the knees.


If a llama continues to be concerned about a perceived threat, he escalates from emitting a scent through his metatarsals to screaming at the predator. Learn more about that in the blog post called “Llama Alarm Cry.”



Happy Trails from Mama Llama!

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