Why Llamas and Alpacas Spit
Llamas and alpacas are sweet animals but won't hesitate to spit at you.
Lisa Williamson is an associate professor of large animal medicine at the University of Georgia. She says llamas and alpacas spit for several reasons. A female uses this behavior to tell a male she's not interested in his advances, and both genders use it to keep competitors away from food. Spitting is also used to warn an aggressor away.
Some llamas and alpacas are just crabbier than others and spit with little provocation. But, most of them usually give fair warning before unloading the full arsenal.
"They'll raise their chin, and they'll flatten their ears back, and they may first threaten that way," says Williamson. "Then if the animal they're directing that behavior at doesn't pick up on it, they will first blow out some air and saliva. And it makes a little "pfffffpth" noise."
If the offending party doesn't get the hint and back off, the llama or alpaca will regurgitate its stomach contents and spit it up to 10-feet away. The animals' moment of victory is brief, however, because the gastric goo isn't pleasant for them, either.
"They can't stand the taste of it! They'll actually sit there with their mouths hanging open and they'll take their ears to half-mast," says Williamson. "It's really hysterical! So their mouth's hanging open, there's green stuff falling out, and they just look like somebody washed their mouth out with soap. And sometimes they'll walk around, they'll seek out something like a breath mint, you know a tasty leaf, just to try to get the taste out of their mouth. And that will go on for a few minutes while they're just, "ugh, why did I do that?"
Williamson says most llamas and alpacas do not spit on people. But if their ears are pinned back, and they're staring at you, avoid eye contact and act nonthreatening.