The Birds and Bees—Camelid Edition

Last week, I talked about how we goats make kids. Llamas and alpacas do things completely differently. I bet you’ll be surprised!

by Martok
PHOTO: Pablo Diaz de Valdes/Flickr

Last week, I talked about how we goats make kidsLlamas and alpacas do things completely differently. I bet you’ll be surprised!

Llamas and alpacas are camelids. Camelids include Old World camels (two-humped Bactrian camels and one-humped dromedaries) and South American camelids, namely llamas, alpacas, guanacos and vicuñas. South American camelids evolved in the high Andes Mountains, where it’s fairly warm by day but bitterly cold at night—even in the summertime. To survive, they developed unique breeding behaviors, such always having their babies (called crias) during the warmer daytime hours, usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so their crias are on their feet and dry before nightfall.

Female llamas and alpacas used for breeding purposes are usually mated for the first time when they’re 15 to 18 months old. Males usually can’t perform that young. Until a male reaches puberty, generally around 2 to 3 years of age, his penis remains attached to the inside of his prepuce, the sheath of skin that protects it when he isn’t aroused. Normally, a male’s prepuce points backwards, but when he’s ready to breed a female, it points forward and his penis sticks out.

Female llamas and alpacas don’t come in heat because they’re induced ovulators. That means unless they’re pregnant, they can be bred at any time. The act of mating causes the female’s ovaries to release an egg. She ovulates 24 to 48 hours after she and her boyfriend do their thing.

Breeding usually takes place in a small, secure area, such as a sturdy round pen so that the female can’t jump out if she gets annoyed. Someone leads the male to his waiting girlfriend and the action begins. The male cavorts around and sniffs the female to court her, and he begins making a distinctive mating sound called orgling. Finally, he’ll jump on the female from the rear. If she isn’t already pregnant, she’ll sit down with her legs tucked underneath her (this is called cushing), and he’ll sit down behind her, gradually pulling himself forward until his penis extends all the way into her uterus. During mating, he orgles, nibbles her ears and caresses her shoulders with his front feet. Mating can last from 5 to 45 minutes, though 20 minutes or so is the norm. When the happy couple stands up, they’re returned to their usual quarters and that single breeding usually does the trick.

To check to see if the female ovulated, she and the male return to the breeding pen 7 days later for a “spit off.” If the female ovulated, she’ll spit at the male and run away from him and maybe kick him—she won’t cush so he can breed her again.

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After another 7 days, back to the breeding pen they go. If the female rejects the male during the second spit off, she is very likely pregnant. A veterinarian can perform an ultrasound on the female beginning about 45 days after breeding to make certain.

Between 315 to 370 days later (about 11.5 months is typical), she’ll give birth to a single cria in a pretty bizarre way. At the end of her labor, she’ll squat so that most of the cria’s body dangles head down from her vulva for up to 5 minutes while fluid and mucous drain from his mouth. Then with one last contraction she pushes him out and, splat, he hits the ground. I’m sure glad mama goats don’t do it that way!


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