Alpaca Communication

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Alpacas constantly communicate through a wide range of complex gestures.  They use body posture; ear, tail, head and neck signals; vocalization; scent and smell; locomotion displays and herd response to communicate with one another. Understanding how alpacas communicate is both entertaining and an extremely valuable herd management tool.  Understanding the alpaca language can allow an owner/breeder to gauge compatibility, rank, level of aggression of males, reproduction readiness of females and males in their herds.  This display will focus on the body, vocalization, scent and smell areas of alpaca communication. 

 BODY LANGUAGE:   Broadside Pose - Males strike a pose broadside to signal aggression from far off. They stand sideways, rigidly holding their tail high, neck arched, ears pinned back and nose tilted skyward. It can signal to an intruding male a mile off that it’s approaching the gesturing male’s territory. A male in the company of females is likely to strike this pose.  This pose is used for intimidation.  Females may also use this pose when warning another female alpaca at a feeding station, or elsewhere in the paddock.  She may also use this pose to warn male alpacas that she is not interested in breeding. 

Alert Stance - When a dog or cat walks nearby, all alpacas will stand with their bodies rigidly erect and rotate their ears forward in the direction they are staring. The tail is usually slightly elevated. Often an entire herd will strike this position, all of them directing their sight to the same object of concern. This posture signals curiosity about a change occurring in the immediate environment. This posture will come before and “alarm call” or rapid flight, if the herd interprets the change as danger. It also will cause the entire herd to bunch together and move forward in unison to investigate or chase of the intruding animal. Alpacas have keen eyesight and can often see hidden creatures long before people are aware of a foreign presence near the herd. 

Stand off (stare off)- Two animals will stand rigidly within a few feet of each other, ears pressed back, neck held high, head tilted upward and tail elevated. The stand-off is a middle grade show of aggression, often between alpacas of similar rank. It happens when neither alpaca immediately yields to another’s show of dominance. If one of the animals doesn’t eventually walk away or turn its head, spitting, pushing and aggressive noise may erupt. Females often resort to this behavior near food or in defense of a cria.  If this continues between the same animals, you may want to separate the alpacas to avoid continuous stress. 

Submissive crouch - While slouching slightly, the animal lowers its head, curves its neck toward the ground, and flips its tail onto its back. This is a posture seen in adolescent and young adult animals and signals to a dominant animal that its higher status is recognized and that no challenge will be forthcoming.  

Ear, Tail & Head Signals – The position of the ear, tail, and head along with body posture is one the chief forms of visual communication in maintaining order in a herd.  A relaxed alpaca will have its ears up or slightly back, while and aroused alpaca will have its ears forward and “cupped” toward the distraction. The more vertical the tail position, the stronger the warning of aggression is close at hand.  Alpacas may also tighten their lower lip (exposing the base of teeth and gum line) or dropping the lower lip, draw back their eyelids exposing the whites of the eye as forms of distress. 

Vocalizations: Alpacas use complex sets of sounds to communicate with each other. 

 Humming - Humming is the predominant sound you’ll hear when you come to an alpaca ranch. Alpacas hum for many reasons. From birth until at least six months, mother’s and their crias hum to each other constantly. Weaning is a particularly stressful time for both mom and babe and humming is constant and heart wrenching. Alpacas also hum as a sign of distress at separation from other herd members.  Alpacas will hum mournfully. Alpacas hum when they’re curious, content, worried, bored, fearful, distressed, or cautious. 

Snorting - Alpacas give a very subtle snort to another alpaca if he or she is coming too close, or being too familiar.  This sound is usually made when displaying the broadside pose. 

Grumbling - Alpacas use grumbling to communicate a mild warning.  This sound is made deep in the throat and sounds like gurgling.  Grumbling is done when one has crossed the threshold of tolerance into another’s feeding space in the pasture.  Rather than stop grazing, and lift their heads, the alpaca will grumble, letting the other animal know it is too close for comfort. 

Clucking - Alpacas cluck (this is vaguely like a hens cluck) when intimidating a neighbor, or a mother alpaca who is concerned about her cria.  This may be a form of bonding between mom and baby.

Screaming - Some alpacas are very high-strung and extremely fearful. When you handle them, or their babies, they will put their face next to your ear and let loose a deafening scream. Most alpacas who are not handled or in most cases imported alpacas will resort to screaming.  Alpacas will scream when they are being attacked by a predator, or an aggressive alpaca. 

Screeching – A screeching alpaca is an angry male alpaca who is actively engaged in a fight over dominance or territory.  A female alpaca’s form of screeching is a deeper toned “croaking/growl” when they are angry.  Any continual screeching of an alpaca is an underlying sign of severe stress to the animal. 

Alarm Call - When something unusual or resembling a predator appears in the vicinity, one alpaca will sound a high-pitched, rhythmic braying sound which causes the herd to bunch up for protection. 

Orgling - Male alpacas have a unique throaty vocalization they make when mating. Each male has his own style and intensity of orgling that may involve throats, lips and breathing apparatuses. 

Spitting - Yes, alpacas do spit to signal their extreme displeasure, fear or dominance. Male alpacas horse around, stand each other off and spit. Both males and females spit in dominance wars over food. Moms will spit at other mom’s babies who try to suckle or mount her or get to close to her newborn. There are varying qualities of spit: air, grass, regurgitated stomach contents that are currently being re-chewed. 

COMMUNICATION BY SCENT:  In the wild males will mark their territory with dung.   Alpacas from the same herd family will use the same dung pile.  Males will also sniff the dung pile to determine the reproductive status of his females.  Female alpacas will also use the scent of her cria to distinguish it from other crias.  Alpacas also will sniff the face of a person bends over to greet them.

25 Responses to “Alpaca Communication”

  1. Lauren Bosmeny Says:

    do you know of any “toys” we can make for our alpacas to keep them stimulated and address thier natural curitostiy. I read about one before we had apacas, and now that we have them, can’t find any info abou it.
    Thanks,

  2. Jeff & Cindy Says:

    My name is Erika Watkins. I own Huggable Humming Alpacas. Although not necessarily toys, there are many things you can do with your aminals. You can make some obstacles for them. I have jumps, bridges, tarps, etc. If you have males this would be great, but I wouldn’t recommend you do this with pregnant females. I think huacayas will be a little easier to do this with also. What kind of alpacas do you have?

    If you have kids this could be something they could do with the alpacas.
    I really enjoy working with my alpacas. It is a good way to bond with your
    alpacas.

    Hope this will help you. If you have anymore questions let me know!!

    Thanks,
    Erika Watkins
    Huggable Humming Alpacas
    alpacas.wordpress.com

  3. Casey Says:

    My alpacas have an interest in shoes. If you remove the laces and any parts that are potetial hazzards then your alpacas may find these fun. My alpaca (gelded male) likes to trot/prance around the pasture showing off to my other ‘paca.

  4. Rose Young-Stewart Says:

    I do not own either an Alpaca or a LLama but i find them interesting. People near me own them in upstate NY. There are Alpaca days where people can see them and buy the articles made from their fur. I would like to see one close up and give it a hug and kiss They look very cute and lovable someone told me i shouldnt feel like this that the animal spits at people. I don’t believe it. What about dogs and cats? Do they get along with the llamas and alpacas?

  5. Jeff & Cindy Says:

    Rose,

    If you are ever given the chance to see an alpaca up close you need to do it. They will win your heart over at the first look. That is how I got in to them and also into showing them. There are 2 different types of alpacas- Huacaya and Suri. I like and will only have Huacaya alpacas as they are much nicer and eaiser to work with. You can pet alpacas- NOT ON THE HEAD !!!!!! and they will NOT spit at you if they are around humans a lot. If you see them at events like the Alpaca Day then they will be used to humans. Just like a dog though you always want to ask if you can pet the alpacas, I know I don’t like it if someone comes up and pets my alpacas without asking. Alpacas DO NOT like dogs or cats. Some alpacas I know were attacked by a dog- even a family dog. There is one breed called Great Pyranese that is very good with alpacas but you still have to be careful. Alpacas and llamas get together very well. We had a llama in with our boys until we had to put him down. Llamas are really good guard animals for the alpacas.

    Thank you for visiting my site. I hope I have answered all of your question about these wonderful animals. If you have any more questions please contact me.

    Thanks
    Erika

  6. sandra jordan Says:

    I wonder if you have heard a recording of Alpaca sounds. Thewre seem to be so many. I would love to use their sounds in my presentations.
    Thanks for your help.

    I have enjoyed your comments.
    Best,
    Sandra

  7. Denise Spina Says:

    I have alpacas and I don’t agree with you about dogs…I have 4 labs and 2 shih tzu’s and my alpacas and dogs get along great. My onloy problem s that my dogs love the tasty alpaca beans!

  8. Gail Whitney Says:

    My llamas play with our small dogs. The babies play chase with them and take turns chasing. I believe they would be scared of STRANGE dogs or cats though.

  9. Chicago Teeth Whitening Says:

    This is often a pretty decent website. I have been back repeatedly over the past seven days and want to sign up for your rss using Google but find it difficult to find out the way to do it exactly. Would you know of any tutorials?

  10. Ali Says:

    I would like to personally amend the section regarding the humming. As an alpaca owner for the past 20 years I would like to personally think alpacas humm during times of happiness, joy and overall comfort.

  11. SnowDiamondAlpacas Says:

    My LORETTA just play with kids and as well with my dogs. feels good watch them play.

  12. Sharon Says:

    When I recently visted an alpaca farm here in Tx one alpaca seemed very curious while the others were stand offiish. this one came to the fence and hummed of course hummed back this went back and forth for some time much to my husbands amusement as we were finally walking away the alpaca kept humming at me.

  13. Judy Says:

    What does the “click” mean? I have two wethered Alpacas, and am fascinated by the complexity of their vocal and body language, and want to understand this so i don’t get i wrong. The two are sometimes separated when on herd guard duties at lambing time, and on meeting may use a click sound. This may accompany an aggressive stance. One is a year younger than the other and he is always submissive. I have found when i make the same click when moving them that they do move on, as moving them in the desired direction can be difficult. Am i giving an aggressive or a friendly signal?

  14. Christopher Brown Says:

    Hi Judy as an alpaca owner, I have found the “clicking” or “clucking” is usually between the mother and their young, mostly when they want the young to come to them and typically is an invite to nurse. i have done this with my yearling males and they typically come up to me.

    Sharon — alpacas are like people, some are more comfortable around humans than others. I’ve found that the more a cria has been worked with and handled by humans, the more apt they are to be interested in people and be friendly.

  15. Judy Says:

    Thank you for the reply Christopher. It seems i am not likely to get treated like the enemy if i continue to click to get them to move in the right direction. They are not easy to move into a paddock when they don’t want to go – their long legs can well and truly outrun me and they behave differently to sheep, cattle and goats that i am familiar with.

    They are fascinating animals, but although ours are very friendly and look cuddly, they do not like to be cuddled or scratched as every other animal we have farmed does.

  16. Cherylann Sasvary Says:

    Hi i was wondering if some one could help me we have recently inherited a alpaca we think he is about 2 year old when we got him a couple of months ago he wasnt to bad you just couldnt turn your back on him now though he rares up at you what i am wondering is this because he needs a mate or should i get him desexed he was handled and petted by the last owners they had him from a very young age i dont really what to have him put down but at the moment it is hard to get in with him and my sheep cause he just attacks you could some one please help in what we should do if he just needs to be trained i can do yhis but have to know how to do it

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  18. Roxanne Goss Says:

    Hi Cherylann – I’ve owned alpacas for 10 years. My advice would be to get him a companion male. Alpacas are herd animals. Secondly you need to teach this guy boundaries. His prior owners probably handled him alot and he never learned that humans are the ones that are allowed to make contact first. The easiest way to do this is to bop his top when he violates your space. At the same time, yell the word NO. If that fails, then move into kneeing him in the chest and yell NO. It won’t take him long to figure out that he is out of line and the behavior which was ok is no longer ok. They are very smart animals. You must be consistent for this to work.

  19. Aileen S Hanson Says:

    I keep reading how alpacas are attacked by dogs and I have this concern too. However, our two dogs one 50# lab mix and the l6# chinese crested are pursued by one of the males (both are gelded). I just watched as the 4year old male went over to my small dog in the pasture and hopped over him. I headed out there and yelled at him Fortunately he did not hurt him, no yelping from my dog. This did not look like playing to me. My small dog was oblivious to the whole event. Me…. I am still shaking. Any thoughts? Play or dominance of the pasture?

  20. Judy Says:

    Hi Aileen, we use wethered Alpaca to protect our lambs from predators such as foxes and dogs. Although they know our dog, we still have to use caution. If a strange dog came into the paddock, a quick spin around and powerful kick from the Alpaca would kill the dog. Ours once had a very close call. Does you dog now fear going near the Alpaca? It may have been giving a warning.

  21. gg Says:

    I am just learning.

  22. jane Says:

    can you pen two new baby crias with their moms together in the same pen?

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  24. Lin Kremer Says:

    I have cats, dogs, chickens, and suri alpacas and they all get along great. Our suri alpacs ARE very easy to handle and I have some very friendly suri alpacas. I have taken them to nursing homes and some of them come over and want me to pet them on the HEAD. So some of the things I have read here on this page is simply from someone that has never had suri alpacas, cats, and dogs. It is all in how you treat them, not what type of alpaca they are, because I believe that an alpaca is an alpaca, be it huacaya or suri.

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