Last Updated on April 15, 2021 by Travels with Kids
Alpaca vs llama is a million-dollar question! We are going to go through the key things to look for when evaluating the difference between a llama and alpaca. They both have similarities but are also very different, and quirky animals. Then we are going to go through some fun facts about llamas, and some fun alpaca facts.
Are you a kid reading this? If so you might like to read our Fun Alpaca And Llama Facts For Kids, including some llama jokes!
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Alpaca Vs llama – What’s The Difference Between A Llama And An Alpaca
Before we can even begin to explore the difference between a llama and an alpaca, it may be an idea to provide a brief history of these two fascinating animals, which are similar in so many ways, and yet, so different in many others. And what an intriguing story they have to tell!
Llamas of today are the direct descendants of the wild guanaco, while alpacas are the descendants of the vicuna. Also, there has been interbreeding between the two species, most likely by ancient human domestication intervention, dating back to over 6000 years ago. Today, all llamas and alpacas are totally domesticated, although their ancient cousins, the guanacos, and vicunas, still roam in the wild.
Before we go any further, let us put these species head to head and explore the similarities and the differences between llamas and alpacas.
If you looking for some books on llamas and alpacas, here are some of our suggestions. Click on each for current prices on Amazon.
Major Differences Between A Llama And Alpaca
At a first glance, particularly from a distance, these two characters look very similar. However, when you get up close and personal, it becomes clear that they are two totally different animals.
Size: This is the most obvious difference. Llamas are far larger, reaching a total height (top of the head) of 1.8 meters (5 ft 11in), and can weigh between 130 to 200 kg. (290-420 lbs.) Alpacas on the other hand are half that size growing to about 80cm to 1metre (2.6 to 3.2 feet) and rarely reaching weights of over 70 kgs. (150 lbs).
Face: Llamas have long faces with very little hair. While alpacas have cute and stubby little faces covered in soft hair, with a thick fringe on their foreheads, making them look like pop stars of the 60s.
Ears: Llamas have long banana-shaped ears, while alpaca ears are short, straight, and pointed.
Personality: Although both animals are gentle and affectionate by nature, llamas, being much bigger, have shorter fuses and can become aggressive towards any potential predator or anyone who rubs them up the wrong way. Alpacas are more intelligent and even learn to perform tricks! Llamas are intelligent too. However, they come with a little attitude and don’t fancy taking instructions from humans.
Fiber: Although the wool of both species is highly valued, they vary substantially in structure and quality. The wool of a llama is significantly thicker and coarser, making it ideal for the making of hard-wearing rugs, blankets, and ropes. Alpaca fiber is much finer and as soft as cashmere but stronger than sheep’s wool. This makes it highly sought by trendy European fashion houses producing expensive and delicate garments, like scarves, socks, mittens, and hats.
Their Purpose: Although both species have provided meat and valuable wool, for thousands of years, llamas have been bred mostly to be used as pack animals while trekking through the mountains. They also make great guards looking after sheep, goats, and alpacas. Alpacas are bred purely for their valuable and luxurious fleece.
Forms Of Defense: Although all llamas are domesticated, they are still very territorial and will lay claim and defend any area they consider theirs, whether it is fenced or not. Being herd animals and much bigger than alpacas, they will not hesitate to attack and chase away any rival males or potential predators, such as pumas and ocelots. They fight dirty, using any means such as charging, spitting, kicking, screaming, or wrestling to the ground anything that may pose a threat.
Alpacas, being much smaller and totally domesticated, will seek safety in numbers to avoid predators.
What Do Llamas And Alpacas Have In Common
Firstly, they are both Camelid species. Meaning that they are even-toed and have 3-chamber stomachs. Other Camelid animals include camels, dromedaries, guanacos, and vicunas. Llamas and alpacas’ feet have no hoofs but soft leathery footpads. They are much like cats and dogs, with two toenails, having less impact on the ground than other hooved animals. Unlike goats, which pull the roots out of the soil, their sharp incisor teeth cleanly trim the grass, promoting growth thus reducing soil erosion.
Similar shapes. Both animals have almost identical shapes. They deer-shaped with long necks and camel-like faces, which are both totally disproportional to the rest of their bodies. It’s as if they were put together with leftover spare parts from other animals.
Both species are normally timid in nature. They make great pets. However, if annoyed or threatened, they both have the disgusting habit of spitting. This may not be seen as life-threatening, but gross. It’s not just saliva that they spit but actually vomit that they regurgitate from their stomachs.
Llamas and alpacas are high-altitude animals. They have a remarkably high content of hemoglobin and large oval red blood corpuscles. This enables them to carry more oxygen to survive in high-altitude environments without suffering from the effects of altitude sickness. Another example of how wonderful and so perfect nature is. Both animals have thick coats with hair that insulates them well, allowing them to thrive in the harsh cold conditions of the Andes.
Llamas and alpacas were both domesticated by the Incas. Llamas were widely used for food, clothing, and as pack animals. They transported goods all across their vast empire, while alpacas provided them with wool, meat, and dung for fertilizer. These animals were revered by the Inca, being sacrificed to their gods, and were deeply woven into their culture and religious beliefs.
Alpacas and llamas are induced ovulators. This means that females do not go into heat. Unlike many other animals that ovulate cyclically, it is only the act of mating that causes alpaca and llama females to ovulate. Just like their ancient cousins, the camels, mate in the prone position, which is quite unusual for such large animals. If a llama or alpaca female is already pregnant, she will refuse to “get into position” and will even spit at Mr. Wonderful if he doesn’t get the message. After about 11-12 months gestation period, babies, called “crias” are born.
Lifespan. Both llamas and alpacas have a lifespan of around 20 years.
Both Species Communicate By Making Similar Strange Sounds
Humming: Both llamas and alpacas hum to communicate with others, when they are content, agitated, tired, or annoyed. Mothers also hum to greet their new babies.
Clucking: When greeting new “friends” or trying to seduce a female, they make a strange clicking sound with their tongues, while pushing their ears back at the same time. Sure beats buying expensive roses, fancy dinners, and all that stuff.
Orgling: When love is in the air and things get really serious, males make their intentions clear by making another strange gargling sound, lasting throughout the copulation, which could be up to an hour. “Lucky llamas” did I hear you say? That sound is best described as someone trying to blow a trumpet underwater. Don’t know about you, but it doesn’t sound too romantic to me.
Alarm Call: Being herd animals that take care of each other. If threatened or someone spots a predator, they raise the alarm by making a repetitive loud high pitch shrill. This sounds almost like starting an engine, with a loose fan belt. A real annoying sound, but certainly most effective.
Can Alpacas And Llamas Mate?
They certainly can. When a male alpaca mates with a female llama, the resulting offspring is a hybrid called a huarizo. They are sometimes also referred to as llalpacas. Huarizos are smaller than llamas but have longer wool. But when a female llama is mated with a male alpaca, it often results in birth defects or even stillbirth. For some unknown reason, nature won’t allow huarizos to reproduce themselves as females cannot fall pregnant and all males are sterile. Mother Nature trying to tell us something?
Where Can One See Llamas And Alpacas?
If you visit the region around Cusco Peru, then mixing with the llamas and alpacas will be a highlight for most travelers. When you first wander the cobblestone streets of Cusco you’ll discover plenty of local photographic models who wear traditional dress and walk around with a llama or some cute little lambs. Don’t forget that this is a legitimate job. If you take a photo with them, then pay them!
Located on the Cusco to Pisac road, Awancancha is an indigenous-run center that aims to keep alive traditional Andean textile arts through the collaboration of local indigenous communities. These communities have made weaving the principal activity of their villages in modern times.
You can see weaving and natural dye demonstrations in many places in the Sacred Valley, especially Ollantaytambo and Chinchero. However, there are no other places you can see all four members of the camelid family – llama, alpacas, vicunas, and guanacos. We always stop at Awanacancha for this reason!
How Did The Llamas & Alpacas Arrive In The Americas
Llamas and alpacas both belong to the Camelidae family and have been around for millions of years. Fossil footprints found in California, strongly indicate that these species originated in North America. Roughly 2.7 million years ago, the volcanic Isthmus of Panama rose up from the seafloor, bridging the two separated Americas, becoming known as the Great American Interchange.
This event allowed many land animal and bird species to freely migrate between the two continents. Some camelid species migrated further north crossing the Bering Land Bridge into Asia and Africa, eventually evolving into camels and dromedaries. Others that migrated south, evolved into the guanaco and its smaller relative, the vicuna. By the end of the last Ice Age, approximately 12 000 years ago, all camelid species in North America had become extinct. Today most of the world’s llamas and alpacas live in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia and Peru. They are also found in smaller numbers in eastern Chile, Ecuador, and Argentina.
What Other Camelids Can Be Found In South America
Two other camelid species are found in South America – the Guanacos and the Vicunas. Guanacos are the wild counterparts of llamas. Guanacos are smaller and slighter than llamas but bigger than alpacas. They have distinct colorations, with mostly light brownish coats, grey faces, and white bellies. They also live on the slopes of the Andes and in Argentinian Patagonia.
Vicunas also live in the wild and are the undomesticated cousins of the alpaca. They are smaller and more slender than alpacas with slightly smaller heads but longer ears than the guanacos. Their wool is considered to be the finest and most expensive in the world because vicunas can only be shorn every three years.
Vicunas were heavily protected for centuries by the Incas. However, after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, thousands died of diseases from newly introduced cattle and sheep and were also hunted to near extinction. It was only in 1974, when only 6,000 animals remained in the wild, that they were declared an endangered species and heavily protected. Through imposing tough conservation measures, numbers today have recovered to around 350, 000.
Is It True That There Are Llamas And Alpacas At Machu Picchu
It’s true that the only permanent residents at Machu Picchu are camelids. Photographers at Machu Picchu will find their vacation camera rolls full of llama “photobombs”. When we were at Machu Picchu we were sad to see people enticing the llamas to pose with chips, crisps, and all sorts of junk food. Please don’t do this!
For our best tips about visiting Machu Picchu see Best Tips For Visiting Machu Picchu With Kids.
What About Seeing Llamas & Alpacas In Other Places In The World
There are many animal farms around the world that allow you the chance to get up close with a llama or an alpaca. Sometimes you can even observe them side by side to see the difference between a llama and alpaca. One of our favorite places to do this has been the Denmark Alpaca Farm, which we included in The BEST Things To Do In Denmark WA.
While the fabulous properties of alpaca wool are well known, it’s less known that alpacas and llamas running together in the Andes mountains have diluted the strength of the llama. Most specifically their role as a carrier.
We love that the Llama Pack Project has been aiming to revitalize the use of llamas as carriers, and have been carrying out breeding programs for the last 7 years.
We visited the Llama Pack Project in the Sacred Valley and learned how their project is motivating and teaching high Andean families to protect the high mountain ecosystems. They are creating work opportunities for these families. When you visit the Llama Pack Project, you get to meet some of the llama breeders – and get to trek with their llamas!
Trekking On Any Of The Remote Routes
The best Andes trekking routes to see llamas and alpacas in their natural habitat are the Lares Region of Peru and the Ausangate Mountain area. We stayed at the Andean Lodges near Ausangate and woke to views of llamas and alpacas outside our bedroom window! You can ask your trek operator to use llamas to carry your camping equipment on treks. Although mules and horses are more commonly used!
Difference Between Alpaca Vs Llama Fiber
The nature and properties of alpaca and llama fibers are simply something to behold! As these animals have been designed to live in high altitudes and cold harsh conditions, Mother Nature has equipped them with natural built-in heating systems – their fleece.
Their fibers have a hollow core, making their wool extremely soft and light while retaining warmth three times more than sheep’s wool, or any other synthetic fiber. Unlike sheep’s wool, llama and alpaca fibers do not contain lanolin. Lanolin traps dust and plant particles that may cause itchiness or trigger off allergies. Yet llama and alpaca fibers still somehow remaining virtually flame and water-resistant. By having no lanolin, they are also far easier and less costly to process than sheep’s wool. The fibers are so strong that the Incas braided them with reeds to build bridges across canyons in the Andes! Let’s take a look at the properties and uses of each individual species.
Llama Hair (It’s Actually Not Llama Wool!)
A llama’s coat is made up of two different parts, guard hairs, and ground hairs. The ground hairs are the hairs on the llama’s undercoat. The guard hairs is what grows on top. As the name suggests, the guard hairs actually protect the finer layer of hair underneath.
In the past, llamas were bred mainly for packing purposes, which resulted in them having much coarser fleece than alpacas. But today, there are a lot of llamas with fine soft fleece, which can be spun singly or blended with other fibers. Having no memory, it is also ideal for weaving. Animals are sheared every two years, yielding about 4 kg (8 lb) of wool and natural colors range from white, all shades of brown to silver, grey and black, reducing the need to dye.
What About Alpaca Fiber
Not being used as pack animals, the fiber strands of alpacas are much thinner and smoother than those of llamas, making them ideal for delicate and expensive high-end fashion garments. Being light, soft, and virtually water-resistant, they make excellent thermal socks and undergarments as they do not absorb unpleasant sweaty odors. Recent studies have shown that alpaca fiber also contains a high level of keratin giving it natural anti-microbial properties. They too come in many natural colors, although they can also be dyed successfully. Alpacas are sheared annually, with each animal producing about 3 kg (6 lb) of wool.
There are two types of alpacas; the huacaya and the suri. The huacaya fleece is woolly, dense, and wavy, while the suri has long, hanging dreadlock-style fleece, making them even more desirable than those of the huacaya. The most luxurious alpaca wool is baby alpaca, which comes from the first shearing of a young animal and not actually from a baby alpaca. It is super soft and extremely fine, around 20 microns and by far the most expensive fiber.
Wool of the wild guanacos and vicunas are even more desirable as they are both endangered species and limited quantities are available. Vicunas are more endangered and therefore their wool is more expensive than those of the guanacos. They also have to be captured and sheared before they are released into the wild. Each animal only produces about 1.5 kg (3 lb) of wool each year. A very expensive and labor-intensive process for such a low yield.
In ancient Inca cultures, only royalty was allowed to wear vicuna garments. Today the vicuna stands proud as the symbol of Peru and appears on the Peruvian Coat of Arms.
If you looking for some books on llamas and alpacas, here are some of our suggestions. Click on each for current prices on Amazon.
The placid nature, low maintenance qualities, and unique appearance of these animals have made them trendy and extremely popular in recent years for farms, parks, zoos, private ranches, and eco-estates around the world. They are also used as livestock guards and even as golf caddies. In their native countries, they remain a most respected national asset of huge economic importance, providing employment for thousands of people, in the form of weaving, knitting, farming, and tourism, with their valuable fibers being exported to all corners of the world, bringing in much needed foreign revenue. Their genes are also exported to many breeding farms across the USA, Europe, and Australia.
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