llamaThere is more to llamas than long eyelashes and a smug expression. They are surprisingly smart, friendly, and quirky.

Five interesting facts about llamas:

  1. Llamas make excellent guards for herds of small animals. They are very social and will ‘adopt’ a group of sheep or goats as their own herd. Then they will protect the herd by chasing off coyotes and other predators.
  2. Llamas are smart. They can distinguish between the neighbor’s dog and a predatory coyote.
  3. Llamas are the camel’s hippie cousins. They belong to a group of animals called camelids that also includes alpacas. All camelids spit or stick out their tongue when they are annoyed.
  4. One of the ways llamas communicate is by humming.
  5. Llamas are diabetic — sort of. The OSU College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) is using their herd of 30 llamas and alpacas to study how certain hormones affect blood sugar. Because the metabolism of llamas is very similar to that of a human diabetic, the results of this research may provide insight into human diabetes treatment.

“We’ve known for a while that everything from camels to alpacas are essentially like diabetic people in a lot of ways,” says Dr. Chris Cebra, Clinical Sciences Department Head at CVM. “We’ve been looking at the roll of incretins – hormones released by the gut after a meal – that make the insulin response stronger and are a major factor in controlling blood sugar.”

The data collected by Cebra suggests that diabetes may develop as a result of decreased incretin production.  Further study is needed to determine if these results are transferable across species.

Despite their resemblance to human diabetics, llamas don’t suffer from the same health issues because their digestive system is different and their diet is so simple.

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