Far before the looming pyramids and the learned librarians at Alexandria, Egyptian civilization sprung up from the fertile banks of the Nile. Long predating the Inca empire and the sprawling structures of Macchu Picchu, Andean civilization emerged from a whole bunch of llama poop.
For civilizations to take root, people need to have enough food on hand to put time and energy into activities like waging war, building stuff, and composing epic poetry. In the high and rugged Andes, growing that much maize—the staple crop of ancient South America—isn’t easy. That’s what llama droppings are for, a new study suggests.
The guys guarding the velvet rope at downtown’s hottest nightspot may be tough–but at least they don’t spit like these llama bouncers.
The BBC reports that two llamas, Willy and Jack, have been drafted to protect the eggs and chicks of wading birds at the Merseyside nature park in Britain–in particular, they’ll guard lapwing and redshank birds, which are threatened species in England.
Researchers say that the highly territorial llamas will kick up a fuss if intruders drop by, and will scare away foxes and other predators looking to snack on eggs or chicks. With the llamas on watch, the park officers hope, the young birds will have a shot at survival.
This is not the first time that llamas have been deployed to protect livestock. The llama and its relative the alpaca have previous work experience protecting lambs and sheep from predators. Alpacas, in fact, come with great references—having been employed by the Prince of Wales to protect his lambs from foxes during lambing season at his Gloucestershire estate.
Looking at the llamas’ resumes, it’s their bouncing skills that stand out. The BBC describes:
It is hoped their slightly erratic behavior, along with the groaning noises and the sound they make when afraid or angry, will be a deterrent. They are also known to spit at and attack each other when provoked, but are gentle creatures when calm.
When they’re off duty, Willy and Jack are quite the charmers; with a local farmer telling the BBC, “The ‘boys’ are a great hit with locals and visitors to the reserve.”
Discoblog: Last Night a Llama Saved My Life: Animal Antibodies Could Treat Cancer, Diabetese
DISCOVER: Secrets of the Alpaca Mummies
Image: Flickr / Nao-Cha
Could the next breakthrough in treatment for diseases from cancer to Alzheimer’s to rheumatoid arthritis lie with a four-legged, furry creature with a penchant for spitting and biting? Improbably, the answer is yes.
Scientists have discovered that the llama, a South American relative of the camel, possesses antibodies that are uniquely tiny—around 90 percent smaller, in fact, than the antibodies of humans. With these tiny sentinels guarding their immune systems, the fuzzy creatures are far better at targeting invading bacteria and viruses. Cue the medical researchers, who are pouncing on this newfound revelation to work on new and better treatments for a host of debilitating and/or fatal diseases.
As Popular Science points out, the mini-antibodies could also mean improvements in the delivery of vaccines (we could use inhalers rather than all those painful, messy, and potentially hazardous needles) and could save money in production costs, since the tinier antibodies can be grown using bacteria rather than the more expensive mammalian cells used to produce human antibodies.
Now if we could just find a way to do something about all that spitting…