Every alpaca owner learns the mannerisms of their own herd as they get to know them over the course of their lives, which although averaging 15-20 years can be even beyond 25! How much do you know about alpaca noises? Here’s a handy breakdown in case you’re curious – with more details to come.
- Alpacas hum to express a variety of emotions.
- Clicking alpacas are friendly, worried, or calling for attention.
- Alpacas make a loud alarm call when danger is present.
- Screaming is an alpaca’s sign of impending doom.
- Alpacas groan when they’re in pain.
- The orgle is a call male alpacas make to attract mates.
- Alpacas snort to tell others to back off already.
- Grumbling alpacas are annoyed.
- Alpacas spit to enforce boundaries.
Alpacas have become beloved livestock and pets over the years, especially in the US and Australia. More recently, their cuteness has even become recognized with the introduction of their own emoji! And while alpacas can’t communicate with us via emoji, they do use noise to communicate. Keep reading – and we’ll discuss what each sound means in more detail – complete with examples.
What kinds of noise does an alpaca make?
As famous as alpacas are for their charming appearances, they also have unique personalities just like people. They are extremely expressive, with a vast array of body language and a wide repertoire of vocalizations, unique to each alpaca. These can range from quiet humming, grunts, and clicks, all the way up to the loud and almost bizarre Chewbacca-style mating ‘orgle’.
Ready to dive into them? Let’s do this.
Noise #1: Alpacas hum to express a variety of emotions
One of the main types of noise that alpacas make is a closed mouth humming noise known as status humming that might remind you of the way cats purr. However, while we know that cats purr as a sign of contentedness, alpacas can hum along to a variety of emotions and situations. If you visit an alpaca farm, this is the noise that you’re most likely to hear, as it’s their main vocal form of expression.
- Sometimes the humming is a way for alpacas to convey discomfort, although how and why they do it it’s less certain.
- Other hums can be a friendly greeting or express happiness.
When owners get to know their alpacas well, they begin to learn how their own animals’ special noises can mean many varied and particular things. This is because the noise can vary a lot in pitch, tone, and length between different alpacas, and even the same alpaca at different times and when in different moods.
As alpacas are friendly herd animals, it’s not uncommon for groups of alpacas to hum together.
- It’s been noticed that both mother and cria (alpaca baby) hum constantly when alpacas are born, but also that alpacas hum more when separated from their herd.
- Sometimes the rest of the herd will also hum in distress when realizing that one of them has been separated from the group, even if they can see that it’s just for a fresh haircut!
However, some alpacas use these noises for happier reasons. Just as humming can be a sign of discomfort, humming can also be a friendly greeting or expression of contentedness. The humming varies a lot in pitch, and although some attribute different pitches to different expressions, it seems to vary a lot with each individual alpaca.
Here’s a cute video of alpacas humming, in case you want to hear it.
Noise #2: Clicking alpacas are friendly, worried, or calling for attention
Another type of noise that alpacas make is a clicking noise, similar to how you might click your tongue against the roof of your mouth to get the attention of a horse.
Some people believe that this is a friendly and submissive noise, letting people and other alpacas know that they’re friendly and happy. However, it has also been observed when mother alpacas are worried about their cria, or when they want to intimidate a neighbor.
This noise has also been transliterated as more of a ‘wark’ or ‘cluck’ and, like many of the sounds on this list, it’s a highly individual thing, with every alpaca having their own distinct personality and array of vocalizations just like people.
Noise #3: Alpacas make a loud alarm call when danger is present
One noise that you’d have trouble ignoring is the alpaca’s alarm call. This is a high-pitched ‘hee haw’ — something halfway between a donkey and the screaming rubber chickens so popular on YouTube videos.
This noise is loud, obvious, and used by alpacas to alert the rest of the herd to danger.
For some alpacas, danger could be a wolf or a stranger, but for the more nervous alpaca, it may be something distinctly less scary. Some alpacas are even a little nervous when they catch sight of their own shadow!
Some alpaca owners who also own dogs have trained their dogs to recognize this alarm call. Sarah Budd, an alpaca owner in Montana, describes how her dogs, upon hearing the alpaca alarm call, will run to be between her alpacas and whatever they identify as danger in just a matter of seconds (source: Alpacas of Montana).
If you want to hear it, I’ve got this video queued to the noise for you. The noise is at about 35-38 seconds into the video, just in case you’re wondering.
Noise #4: Screaming is an alpaca’s sign of impending doom
While the alarm call is used by alpacas to warn of potential danger, alpacas also have another type of noise they reserve for when they know (or at least think) that they are in genuine danger. The scream is high-pitched and loud, with a distinctive trilling noise that might remind you of the internet noise back in the days of dial-up connections (if you’re old enough!).
Male alpacas also scream at each other when they fight (which they do by wrestling with each other’s necks), as well as warn each other to stay off their patch.
Noise #5: Alpacas groan when they’re in pain
Some veterinarians have noticed that during painful times such as pregnancy, or when suffering from intestinal illnesses and UTIs, alpacas can make a groaning noise similar to the noises that humans might make when they have a stomach ache (source 1).
They can also sometimes make a faintly audible noise from grinding their teeth when they suffer from colic.
Noise #6: The orgle is a call male alpacas make to attract mates
The orgle is a sound that is unique to the male alpaca, as this is the noise that alpacas make during the mating process. This sound begins to attract the attention of an hembra (female alpaca) until the mating process is completed.
To date, the best description of an orgle is this: imagine you’re watching Star Wars – and everyone’s speaking Wookie (like Chewbacca). It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s at least going to get you able to imagine what an orgle sounds like.
It’s also a little infectious. One male alpaca making this noise alerts any other intact male around them to the idea that it might be mating time, making them really take notice of the females in their herds. Once one male starts orgling, the rest of them join in the ruckus.
Orgling is a type of noise that varies greatly between individual alpacas. It’s a bizarre sound that’s high-pitched, somewhat bubbly, and squeaky at the same time. It can be very loud, and in extreme cases has even been known to cause noise disputes between neighbors!
If you want to hear it, this video on YouTube shows two alpacas mating – and you can clearly hear the orgle. I’m not embedding the video just in case you don’t want to see the mating act.
Noise #7: Alpacas snort to tell others to back off already
When alpacas get protective of their personal space, there’s one sound they use the most to tell others to back off. They push their head forwards and offer a snort. This short nasal exhalation is a clear message to other alpacas to get out of their face.
It’s often accompanied by grumbling and, in more heated exchanges, spitting, both of which are discussed below.
Noise #8: Grumbling alpacas are annoyed
Just like a grumpy old man, alpacas grumble when they’re annoyed. Grumbling is another tool alongside the snort that they have to tell other alpacas that they need a little more breathing room.
However, it’s generally thought to be a little less extreme than the snort. Alpacas continue grazing while making this noise rather than stopping — leading people to believe that this is just a little warning rather than a straight-up “Hey, buddy, get out of my face.”
Noise #9: Alpacas spit to enforce boundaries
You’ve not fully experienced how alpacas behave amongst themselves until you’ve seen them spitting at each other. This is another way that they keep distance between themselves and other alpacas who might be getting a little too friendly.
Most of the time, alpacas spit dry air (making a ‘pttt’ noise in the process) as a light warning. But when they find themselves pushed further, then they resort to a green spit that contains bile and roughage such as grass.
Spitting tells other alpacas that they are seriously in need of space, and can be the last step before a fight between alpacas.
Sometimes it can also be a way to communicate with humans, and many alpaca owners have found themselves wiping green spit off their faces. Again, it’s a way for the alpacas to indicate their discomfort and need for space.
It just so happens that it fits the stereotype we’ve all thought about while walking past camels, llamas, and alpacas at the zoo!
Are alpacas loud?
Generally, no! Alpacas are by nature quiet, friendly herd animals, and many of the noises which are mentioned above are not particularly noisy. The most common sound that they make is the humming noise, which is not particularly loud and many people find actually fairly pleasant.
In fact, you’d be able to have a comfortable conversation with another person while you’re standing next to a herd of alpacas. Well, okay – you’d be able to do this as long as there wasn’t a fight or a predator nearby. The screaming alpacas make would make a normal conversation harder.
However, both the alarm call and orgling, although relatively rare, can be quite loud.
In rare circumstances, neighbors have registered noise complaints as a result of alpacas screaming or orgling. Those noise levels are often comparable to the volume of barking dogs.
If you’re thinking of owning alpacas yourself, it might be worth considering the gender makeup of your herd. You may want to consider skipping any intact males – go for a female herd. Or if you want a male, get a neutered male. Intact males are much less likely to orgle. This can go a long way, especially if you suspect noise might be an issue with neighbors.
Why do alpacas scream?
Alpaca screaming, while generally an expression of fear, can happen for several different reasons, specific to each individual alpaca. They will scream at the sight of predators, which may include unfamiliar dogs.
They might also scream at the sight of strangers, although this is less common as alpacas are generally known to be friendly around people. In fact, alpacas even reserve a special soft spot for children, which is kind of amazing.
An alpaca with a more nervous disposition is more likely to scream, however, and may require some level of behavioral training to become more comfortable in its surroundings. Alpacas have been known to scream constantly while restrained for veterinary or agricultural procedures, which can range from operations to the simple, annual shearing of their fibers.
When alpacas see or hear other alpacas in distress, their natural herd tendencies mean that they will almost certainly join in, making sure all other alpacas around know what’s going on.
It’s important to learn from your own experience, but it’s also smart to learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and in our personal research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- Fowler, Murray. “Alpaca and Llama Behavior – and its Implications for Illness Detection.” University of California, Davis, Camelid Symposium, 2013, https://www.kulshanvet.com/files/2015/04/Alpaca_Llama_Behavior.pdf.
- Windschnurer, Ines, et al. “Alpaca and Llama Behaviour during Handling and Its Associations with Caretaker Attitudes and Human-Animal Contact.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Elsevier, 19 Mar. 2020, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0168159120300721.