Are Llamas Smart? (Vs Alpacas)

Humans are rather dumb when it comes to figuring out how smart animals are.

After all, we are barely able to determine how smart our own species is. Remember all those Mensa and Buzzfeed IQ tests you found on the internet? Well, many scientists would argue they are rubbish.

But let’s focus on animals for a second. What’s the situation with their intelligence? 

Do dogs just eat, sleep, and bark at the mailman? Do cats really plot world domination? And are llamas smart? How do we determine a llama’s intelligence and its IQ?

Well, instead of looking at IQ, we will look at the llama’s EQ and GI.

EQ is short for encephalization quotient, a way of determining animal intelligence by measuring its brain size.

Even Darwin claimed that relative brain size is related to ‘‘higher cognitive powers’’.

EQ is often used as a proxy for intelligence and a possible way of comparing the intelligence of different species. Just what we need to compare the intelligence of llamas, alpacas, dogs, camels, and horses. 

A majority of mammals are expected to have an EQ of 1; a higher EQ than that may be associated with above-average intelligence. Humans have an EQ of 7.3–7.7.

GI is short for gyrification index, a measure of the degree of folding of an animal’s brain. The overall degree of cortical folding, or gyrification, in the brain has been associated with cognitive ability across species.

The more folds in the brain there are, the higher the GI, the smarter the animal is (sort of).

are llamas smart

How Smart Are Llamas Then? 

Llamas are very social and confident animals that learn tasks quickly. Llamas have an EQ of 0.9 which suggests an average level of intelligence. On the other hand, llamas have a high GI index (2.7) which might suggest above-average intelligence. Llama owners say that llamas understand non-verbal communication.

Some say that llamas are so smart that they can distinguish between the neighbor’s dog and a predatory coyote.

Self-aware animals should be able to recognize the mental states of other animals. This is classified as a form of complex learning which might signify that level of intelligence is directly proportional to the level of awareness.

Llamas have a certain awareness of the existence of the being and people claim that they understand the concept of death. Owners swear that their llamas know when another llama is ill. In that case, llamas would come and comfort the sick member of the herd. 

They also mention that llamas know when a member of their herd is dead and that they will mourn the animal that passed away.

Scientists claim that mammals, like primates, who have an EQ near or above 2 can make and use tools. Llamas do not have hands, but they make the most of what they got. They will use their noses, lips, and feet to open gates and try to untangle knots.

Some llama herders claim that, just like children, llamas know how to get their attention and make them do what their llamas want them to do. An owner claims that one of his llamas would kick the locked gate door with her feet to get his attention. 

Llamas will, just like human infants, look at you with their soulful eyes to manipulate you into letting them graze on their favorite field. That requires some intelligence, right?

As we mentioned, llamas are very social animals and like the company of their species and others. They will ‘adopt’ a group of sheep or goats as their herd and protect them by chasing off coyotes and other predators. They will also hum to other members of their herd to express their satisfaction or distress. Sometimes, a llama will even use its head and neck position or tail waving to communicate.

Llamas have a strong “social intelligence” and will often step in between the llamas that are fighting to separate them and quiet things down. 

Some people connect intelligence in species with brain wrinkles. You must have heard the saying that humans have one of the most wrinkled brains in the animal kingdom. 

Humans do have more folds than any other primate, but elephants and whales have more folding than we do. The brain of a llama is highly wrinkled too.

Scientists calculate the degree of folding as a number, which is called the gyrification index (GI). Gyrification is the process of forming the characteristic folds of the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is responsible for a range of functions related to sensory perception, volitional movements, cognition, memory, etc.

Llamas have a GI index of 2.7, this might suggest an above-average intelligence and cognitive ability. 

As a comparison, humans have an average GI index of around 2.56 (ranging between 2.21 and 2.97). This doesn’t mean that llamas are smarter than humans, but it might suggest that llamas are not dumb animals and that they possess a higher level of intelligence.

Pacific pilot whale has the highest GI index of 5.55, followed by several other cetaceans, elephants, and humans. This is because cetaceans have fewer cortical neurons and a very thin cortex which allows for easier buckling.

The GI index is very interesting in humans as people with schizophrenia have a thinner cerebral cortex and a reduced volume of the superficial layers of the cortex. This results in a more extensive cortical folding.

Llamas also display a high level of awareness. In a mirror test that was aimed at examining different forms of complex learning in llamas, llamas were able to understand what was happening and used that mirror. They showed enough curiosity to examine their surroundings, remember previous experiences, use the new information they learned, and then act accordingly. 

By doing this, they showed insight, the use of a cognitive map, the ability of latent learning, and also a high level of assessment awareness. Not bad.

Are Llamas Smarter Than Alpacas?

Compared to llamas that have an EQ of 0.9, alpacas seem to be smarter animals. Alpacas have an EQ between 1 and 1.25 which suggests an above-average intelligence.

Alpacas are quite intelligent, easy to handle and train. They can learn commands, hand signals, and tricks very quickly. And just like llamas, alpacas are very social and curious animals. 

Unfortunately, no GI index is available on alpacas to compare them with llamas.

Are Llamas Smarter Than Dogs?

Dogs have an encephalization quotient (EQ) ranging from 1 to 3.1. This is significantly higher than that of llamas. This suggests that dogs are more intelligent than llamas. 

When it comes to gyrification index (GI), dogs have between 1.54 and 1.83. This is a lot lower compared to llamas that have a GI of 2.7. 

A recent study calculating EQ parameters showed that the Doberman pinscher is the most intelligent dog. The next most intelligent dog is a German shepherd, followed by a Labrador retriever, and a Golden retriever.

When it comes to GI, the most intelligent dog breed is Vizsla /Hungarian pointer, followed by a Terrier, and German Shepherd.

Are Llamas Smarter Than Camels?

Taking into consideration their brain size, camels are smarter than llamas. Camels have an EQ between 1.2 and 1.3; llamas around 0.9. 

Unfortunately, the GI index for camels is not available. One area where llamas are even with camels is racing. Llamas have the same top speed as camels.

The world’s tallest animal, the giraffe, which is “sort of” related to llamas, has an EQ of just 0.64.

Sheep are also “dumber” than llamas as they have an EQ of 0.6.

Here’s a table comparing brain size, EQ, and GI between llamas, alpacas, dogs, horses, camels, giraffes, and humans.

AnimalBrain WeightEncephalization Quotient (EQ)Gyrification Index (GI)
Llamas7 oz (200 g)0.92.7
Alpacas6.7 oz (190 g)1-1.25n/a
Dogs2.8 oz (80 g)1-3.11.54-1.83
Humans49 oz (1,400 g)7.3-7.72.9
Camels22 oz (626 g)1.2-1.3n/a
Horses18 oz (510 g)0.91.99
Giraffes26 oz (740 g)0.64n/a
Brain weight, EQ, and GI of llamas, alpacas, dogs, humans, camels, and horses

Llama caretakes should provide different cognitive enrichment experiences and activities to encourage curiosity, problem-solving behaviors, and learning in their llamas. If a llama learns to choose a specific shape or color of an object, they should reward them with a treat as part of the positive reinforcement strategy.

Final Thoughts

This concludes our articles examining “are llamas smart”.

Llamas are very social, confident, and gracious animals. They have an EQ of 0.9 which might suggest an average intelligence. Regardless of that, they learn quickly, are easy to train, and are very good guardian animals. They show high levels of awareness and lateral learning.

You should understand that all of the animal cognition tests, the EQ and GI ones, are not perfect and have a lot of flaws. A lot of the available information relies too heavily on anecdotes and personal stories; we need more controlled experiments with large-enough sample sizes.

References

[1] Chen, Jingchen, et al. “Morphology of Rhinencephalon and Hippocampal formation of the Bactrian Camel (Camelus bactrianus) with their adaptive features.” Veterinary research communications 33.1 (2009): 25-32

[2] Saganuwan, Saganuwan Alhaji. “Modified formulas for calculation of encephalization: quotient in dogs.” BMC Research Notes 14.1 (2021): 1-5.

[3] Jerison, Harry J. “Quantitative analysis of the evolution of the camelid brain.” The American Naturalist 105.943 (1971): 227-239.

[4] Gregory, Michael D., et al. “Regional variations in brain gyrification are associated with general cognitive ability in humans.” Current Biology 26.10 (2016): 1301-1305.

[5] Zilles, Karl, Nicola Palomero-Gallagher, and Katrin Amunts. “Development of cortical folding during evolution and ontogeny.” Trends in neurosciences 36.5 (2013): 275-284.

[6] Pillay, Praneshri, and Paul R. Manger. “Order‐specific quantitative patterns of cortical gyrification.” European Journal of Neuroscience 25.9 (2007): 2705-2712.

[7] Grewal, Jagmeet S., et al. “Brain gyrification in wild and domestic canids: Has domestication changed the gyrification index in domestic dogs?.” Journal of Comparative Neurology 528.18 (2020): 3209-3228.

Similar Posts