If you look in a llama’s mouth, you’ll find an unusual arrangement of teeth. Llamas have no front upper teeth. Instead you’ll just see gums (called a dental pad) behind that split upper lip. As they leave their cria days behind them, adult llamas also get additional permanent teeth. At about 2-3 years of age in males and 4-5 years of age in females, they will get their fighting teeth (also called fangs).
Intact males will develop full fighting teeth, a set of 6 sharp teeth; two on the top and one on the bottom of each side of the mouth. The fighting teeth are modified canine teeth and can be up to an inch long. They curve backwards and are razor sharp. Males use their fighting teeth to compete for females and fight off predators. Old llama llore says that males are not fertile until they grow their fighting teeth, but llama owners will tell you this is not true. In females and castrated males, the fighting teeth do not protrude very far.
Fighting teeth are nothing to smile about
Fighting teeth in an angry or competitive male are dangerous. They are extremely sharp and curved backward; made for ripping and tearing into other animals. During a fight, llamas use their teeth to rip into the ears, legs and testicles of their opponent. They can rip all the way down to the bone and have been known to castrate other males. That’s certainly one way to get rid of mating competition! For this reason, most llama owners have the fighting teeth removed from males.
“Removal” of fighting teeth
They may call it removal, but the fighting teeth aren’t actually excised. Instead, they are blunted or sawed off. Using a special wire (called an obstetrical wire), the teeth are cut off at the gum line as soon as they begin to erupt. It is a relatively quick (15-20 second) and painless procedure (at least for the llama). The teeth can continue growing and a second cut might be required later on.
It may seem a bit harsh to saw them off, but it is much better than the alternatives!
Blogging my way from A to Z as part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge! My theme for this year: Llama mama. T for Teeth.
Photo courtesy of Nic McPhee.