The al­paca spit dance tech­nique

Al­paca fan Britt Coker is sure the lla­mas have led the al­pacas astray.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words Britt Coker

When peo­ple dis­cover we have al­pacas, the first thing they want to know is if they spit. No, I joke (joke!), that is the be­hav­iour of their ill­man­nered llama cousins.

You can di­vide al­paca spit into two cat­e­gories: good and bad. The best spit is none at all, but sooner or later some­thing grassy will hit you in the face. If it is good spit, it’s mildly in­con­ve­nient. If it is bad spit, it in­volves si­mul­ta­ne­ously swear­ing, gag­ging and run­ning for the shower. If you have ever brewed com­frey tea you will know the smell of bad spit.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween the two types of spit lies in the stom­ach. Lit­er­ally. Bad spit is fer­mented, slosh­ing stom­ach con­tents, whereas good spit has only got as far as the al­paca’s mouth. Al­pacas tend to start with the good – it’s closer to the exit – then reach for the bad if nec­es­sary. It’s so bad they’ll then stand around with their mouth open, green froth drip­ping.

Al­pacas ap­pear just as gen­uinely re­volted by it as you are, but they can’t re­sist do­ing it again. How­ever, it’s hard to stay an­gry when you can’t bear to purse your lips to­gether.

How does this hap­pen? The scenario goes like this. A kind hu­man de­cides to feed her al­pacas some nuts. She di­vides the food so there is one por­tion for each al­paca in its own con­tainer.

She then be­gins a strange-look­ing, un­fash­ion­able dance, some dart­ing back and forth, a few ele­men­tary hokey-tokey ma­noeu­vres (you put your left arm in and out and so on) as she tries to space the con­tain­ers evenly with­out get­ting spat on.

But no. At least one al­paca doesn’t no­tice they have their own con­tainer and picks a fight with a sec­ond al­paca. They both raise their heads and make the noise of spit com­ing up their neck (al­paca speak: “I’m warn­ing you”), usu­ally fol­lowed by a quick shot of ‘good’ spit to si­lence their op­po­nent. If there is still no sur­ren­der, the ‘bad’ spit flies.

This is tra­di­tion­ally fol­lowed by the self-in­flicted Drool of Dis­gust. Be­cause their mouths are open, drib­bling green evil, they can’t eat the pel­lets they were fight­ing over.

The good news is there’s usu­ally a third al­paca stand­ing not too far away who has quickly hoovered up their share and is now will­ing to take up the pel­let slack. That is, un­less a teeny tiny dol­lop of green spit has fallen onto the food. Then no camelid with any self-re­spect will touch the nuts with a barge pole.

A per­son usu­ally gets spat on be­cause

She be­gins a strange-look­ing, un­fash­ion­able dance, some dart­ing back and forth, a few ele­men­tary hokey-tokey ma­noeu­vres.

they are stand­ing in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is be­cause, con­fus­ingly, al­pacas do not tend to face each other when they first get into an ar­gu­ment (they may if things es­ca­late). Typ­i­cally, one faces straight ahead over the food source (eg, in front of the kind hu­man) while the chal­lenger stands at right an­gles to their op­po­nent, arches their head high and spits. In re­tal­i­a­tion, their ad­ver­sary then arches their head and also spits but sadly is not fac­ing their op­po­nent when they do this. They spit straight ahead, at the hu­man, who quickly feels less kind.

The rea­son they don’t turn their head to face their ad­ver­sary is partly due to the re­tal­ia­tory spit be­ing a reflex ac­tion, but also be­cause it’s less con­fronta­tional. The truth is, a lowranked al­paca is un­likely to chal­lenge for food in the first place. They’re usu­ally fo­cused on try­ing to eat as many of their pel­lets as they can be­fore some­one more bol­shy butts in. They are brave enough to spit but not brave enough to turn their head.

Some­times al­pacas spit at peo­ple on pur­pose, but in my ex­pe­ri­ence this is far less com­mon.

If you’re think­ing of adding al­pacas to your menagerie, ex­pect to be spat on, but con­sider it your fault for stand­ing in range. If you’re vis­it­ing friends with al­pacas, be sus­pi­cious if asked if you’d like to hold their food.

Ei­ther way, never ever walk into a pad­dock full of al­pacas with only one con­tainer of food. The stam­pede to­ward you will be ex­hil­a­rat­ing, but they’ll have you sur­rounded and caught in the cross­fire be­fore you know what’s hit you.

Ex­cept you’ll know what’s hit you.

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