Llama Ears (Size, Shape, Hearing)

Just like other animals, llamas have ears as well. Their ears are organs that allow them to communicate and hear sounds, high-frequency vibrations caused by the movement of objects in the environment. 

Llamas’ ears are some of their most important and unique organs.

Llamas communicate moods or feelings to each other, humans, and other animals with body language. Together with their necks and tails, the ear positions play a key role.

In this article, you will learn:

  • What a llama’s ears look like
  • Their size
  • If llamas hear well
  • How different are the ears of a llama to an alpaca
  • Why llamas have long and curved ears
  • If there are llamas without ears
  • Main ear diseases
llama ears

Llama’s Ear Anatomy

A llama’s ears are long, shaped like a banana, and covered in hairs. They consist of several parts: the outer ear part (pinna), annular cartilage of the pinna, conchal eminence, ear canal, the middle ear, inner ear, tympanic membrane, cranial cavity, tympanic bulla.

The external pinna is very big and highly mobile. Llamas use it to express their current mental state.

The auditory ear canal is located on the side part of the annular cartilage of the pinna. Llamas do not have as wooly ears as camels do (they do not need to prevent sand from getting inside their ears); the ear canal opening is unimpeded and allows them to easily detect approaching predators.

At around 0.7 inches (1.8 cm), the canal bends at an angle of approximately 120 % in llamas and continues for a distance of 0.4 inches (1 cm).

The tympanic membrane, also known as the eardrum, is irregularly shaped and around 0.3 inches (0.8 cm) in diameter. In about 50% of adult llamas, it is not possible to view the eardrum because of the bend and narrowness of the external ear canal. 

The tympanic bulla is large and extensively honeycombed, while the inner ear is found between the middle ear and the cranial cavity.

Llama Ear Size

The ears of a llama are about 6 inches long (15 cm). Males have a slightly shorter ear length than females. On average, male ears are 6.14 inches (15.61 cm) long, while females have 6.21 inches (15.79 cm) long ones. 

A 4-month-old cria has an ear length of 5.99 inches (15.23 cm); a 2.5-year-old llama has 6.03 inches (15.33 cm) long ears.

Not too big of a difference in size.

SexEar Length
Male6.14 inches (15.61 cm)
Female6.21 inches (15.79 cm)
Ear size of a male and female llama

Do Llamas Hear Well?

Llamas have an excellent sense of hearing that allows them to detect approaching friends or foes. Because of their keen ears, people use llamas as guard animals for their livestock.

Llamas will hum to communicate with other llamas. This humming is low in tone and hard to hear. Thanks to their sharp ears, llamas can pick up those sounds, and depending on the volume and tone, understand different moods or feelings their herd member is trying to transmit.

Further reading: What is llama trying to say with its humming

Each Ear Position Has A Meaning

Llamas use their ears to communicate and send a message to other members of the herd. The ears can vary from vertical to forward, above horizontal, horizontal, below horizontal, and flattened on the neck. 

When a llama is feeling fine and content, it will have ears in a vertical position. Its tail will usually lie down flat against the perineum.

Normal ear position of a llama
Normal ear position of a llama

When a llama is alert, alarmed, or has a special interest in something, its ears will be turned forward. The llama will raise its tail to horizontal or as much as 45° above the horizontal position.

Ear position of an alert llama
Ear position of an alert llama

A submissive adult llama will keep its ears in a vertical to an above horizontal position. It will curl its tail forward over the back, and bend the head and neck toward the ground. Obedient young llamas will usually keep their head curved back over the body.

Resting ear position of a llama in a zoo
Resting ear position of a llama

On the other hand, aggressive llamas will have different positions of their ears in combination with various tail and neck postures.

An aggressive and dominant llama will keep its ears low. The lower the ears, the higher its level of aggression is. In contrast to ear position; the higher a llama keeps its tail, the higher is its level of aggression.

Aggressive ear position of a llama that is ready to spit
Aggressive ear position of a llama that is ready to spit

Llamas can use other forms of visual signals to express their aggression: they can spit when feeling threatened, kick, or bite when provoked.

If you see a llama lifting its head, pinning back its ears, that means that the animal is about to spit. This is your sign to back off and leave.

While mating, males will express their excitement by trembling their ears.

Llama Ears Vs Alpaca Ears 

Llamas and alpacas are the only two domesticated South American camelids. They are related and can be distinguished from one another by their size, wool length, the position of their tails, and the shape of their ears.

Llamas are bigger animals than alpacas and have banana-shaped ears. They have long ears with the inner border straight or curved inward.

Alpacas, on the other hand, have short, spear-shaped, and more compact ears than llamas. A breed of alpacas called Huacaya has a sharp ear tip, while a breed of Suri has a more rounded one.

ears of a llama and an alpaca
Ears of a llama (left) and an alpaca (right)

Llamas and alpacas resent people touching their ears. This makes it difficult to inspect their pinna or the external ear canal.

Why Do Llamas Have Long And Curved Ears?

Llamas have long and curved ears to help them swat away insects and hear better. One downside to long ears is that llamas lose more heat through the ears and might suffer from frostbites.

Because their ear canal is free, llamas can hear very well. If they hear the slightest of sounds, llamas will turn their attention to that spot. This, combined with their mildly aggressive temperament, is what makes them great guard animals for goats, sheep, and other livestock.

tails and ears of alerted llamas
Tail and ear position of alert llamas

The disadvantage to an open ear canal is that different “stuff” can get inside your ears. Insects, different particles, branches, and leaves can get inside and sometimes cause big trouble for the animal.

Foxtails can get lodged in the canal and sometimes penetrate the eardrum, middle ear, and even reach the base of the brain. Rarely, but it happens. 

 Although ears do not affect the function of the animal, farmers appreciate long and upright ears rather than ‘gopher’ (very small) ears in their llamas.

Why Do Llamas Have Tassels On Their Ears?

People in Peru have a long history of using tassels, both on their llamas and everything else. Decorative tassels on the ears of a llama are to keep off evil spirits. 

llama with ear tassels
Llama with ear tassels

Some owners will put rings and colorful tassels on their animals to label and mark their ownership of them, or distinguish male and female llamas from a distance. Others will put tassels to prevent dirt and insects from entering llama’s ears and to increase their swat range.

When traveling in herds, the leading llama is brightly decorated with colored ribbons or streamers of silk or wool fastened through holes punched in the ears.

People of the Inka Empire preferred llamas as sacrificial animals, their ritual value was second only to that of human beings.

Bernabé Cobo, a Spanish Jesuit missionary and writer from the 16th century, wrote about the camelid sacrifice at the major Inca festival of Capac Raymi, an event held to mark the coming of age of young Inca nobles:

One hundred sheep [llamas and alpacas] were brought out with great solemnity. These animals were selected from among all those that had been gathered that year and were healthy and without injury, with long wool and stiff straight tails.

Cobo went on to describe how one procession was headed by an Indian holding the royal banner, the ‘suntur paucar’, and a special llama called the ‘raymi napa’ (ritual sacred llama), with a cloth ‘similar to a red tunic over it and gold ear tassels’.

The llamas selected for sacrifice at Tambo Viejo, the Inka settlement on the Peruvian south coast, were elegantly decorated with long, colorful strings made of camelid fibers. 

The colors of the strings had the same colors: red, green, yellow, and purple. Inka priests would also put colorful necklaces around the llamas’ necks. These necklaces were also made of camelid fibers and had colors that matched the ear tassels.

At the period, these decorated llamas were gifts to the gods to protect the nation and give them good rain and a rich harvest.

Today, owners will also use ear tags to mark their llama.

Llama With No Ears

Occasionally, a llama might lose parts of its ears due to frostbites. Frostbites are the result of a cold injury to the ears where the nerves, blood vessels, and skin cells are frozen for a short time. 

Sometimes, a llama will be born with the absence of its outer ear, the pinna.

Llama Ear Facts

  1. Llama’s ears are long, covered in hair, and shaped like a banana. Some compare it to a Viking helmet, while others to a Hawaiian shaka sign.
  2. The ears are around 6 inches (15 cm) long.
  3. Llamas use their ears to communicate with other llamas and humans: llama’s ears down and back mean that the llama is agitated and about to spit.
  4. Llamas use their long ears to hear and to sway away bugs and insects.
  5. Since the Inka Empire, until today, people were putting decorative tassels on the ears of the llamas. Back then, they did so to mark the animal before offering it to the gods. Today, people put tassels to mark their animals and help them sway insects.

Ear Diseases

Llamas can suffer from different ear lacerations, inflammations of the external, middle, and inner ear, ear injuries due to frostbite, and various tumors.

Lacerations of the pinna are very common in adult males. They are very territorial, do not like when other males approach their herd, and will get into fights with them. One male might bite the other male’s ear and cause wounds and injuries. 

Treatment of this type of injury requires that such wounds get cleaned, debrided, and sutured.

Inflammation of the external ear canal is also common in llamas. A llama with this disease will shake its head, scratch the ear with a hindfoot or against a post or barn, tilt its head, and similar.

To treat this condition, you should clean the external ear canal and irrigate it with povidone-iodine solution twice a day, together with antibiotic treatment.

infection in the external ear canal can spread and cause infections of the middle and inner ear. Occasionally, grass awns may penetrate the tympanic membrane and create an infection.

A llama with otitis media (middle ear inflammation) will have facial nerve paralysis, drooping of the upper eyelid, one of the pupils will not dilate in low light, and the third eyelid will be pushed over the eye bulb. 

Some llamas might suffer from frostbites, have different shortening of the ear, or completely lack the outer ear. Some llamas can have agenesis of the pinna (gopher ear), shortened, curled, or bent ears.

To treat these ear deformations, you might want to try and cut out an ear shape in cardboard and then tape it to the ears. Make sure that it’s not taped too tightly so you do not stop blood circulation in the ears. Leave it for a couple of days until the condition is fixed.

References

[1] Tynes, Valarie V., ed. Behavior of exotic pets. John Wiley & Sons, 2010.

[2] Molina, Fables and Rites, p. 56.

[3] Stordy, Colonel Robert J. “The breeding of sheep, llama and alpaca in Peru, with a view to supplying improved raw material to the textile trades.” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts 69.3556 (1921): 118-132.

[4] Machaca Machaca, Virgilio, et al. “Morphological characterization of llamas (Lama Glama) of the Ch’acu breed of Cusco, Peru.” (2020).

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