Humans have been using alpacas and llamas, much like camels, for several thousand years. Both species have helped us to travel to distant lands. Their wooly fur is used to make coats and different garment products. But because they are so alike, someone who doesn’t have any prior knowledge of the two won’t be able to tell them apart. Today, we’re here to help you differentiate between Llamas Vs Alpacas with some major points.
They can be found in South America, primarily in Bolivia and Peru. But with the advancement of agriculture, they are farmed in many parts of the world. Alpacas and Llamas are part of the camel family, named Camelidae. There are two other species of the same family called Guanaco and Vicuna. Interbreeding among all the four species is possible. The offspring of such interbreeding is known to be fertile.
The main differences are in their physical characteristics. Almost all South American farmers can differentiate between the two. But for us, we need to learn about them first. Llamas vs alpacas are used for different purposes. But first, let’s get to know them better.
Major Differences: Llamas Vs Alpacas
The noticeable differences between llama and alpaca are in their size, ears, face, personality, and purpose. Let’s go through them one by one and, in the end, see whether you can differentiate among them.
Alpacas are much smaller in size than the Llamas. Alpacas normally weigh between 130 to 160 pounds. On the other hand, llamas can weigh as much as four hundred pounds. While breeding and farming llamas or alpacas, farmers have to consider their size. Ranch sizes differ depending on which animal you want to have.
Alpacas are easier to handle because of their comparatively smaller size. Kids especially enjoy their company because Alpacas don’t necessarily show aggression, and even when they do, they can be controlled easily.
Llamas are adorable creatures as well. Depending on where you’re keeping them, the size can be a cause of concern. In America, many people in the suburbs get llamas as a pet. Although they aren’t ideal as pets, you can train them to listen to your commands.
No matter which animal you have, it’s better to get them trained first before they get close to children. Alpacas might not mean any harm, but sometimes they don’t know what they’re doing. Eventually, their movements might end up hurting someone.
Compared to the alpacas, llamas have longer ears. Llama ears are almost banana-shaped. Whereas, alpaca ears are small and look like the short tip of a spear.
Right off the bat, by looking at the ears, you can tell llamas and alpacas apart. If you look at pictures of both the animals to understand their physical attribute, the first thing that will catch your eyes is probably the ears. And yes, llama ears do kind of look like a banana whereas, alpacas have ears that are short and pointy.
Another key differentiator between llamas and alpacas is their faces. Both their faces are different in size, structure, and shape.
Llama’s noses are longer compared to alpacas. Plus, llamas have a lot of fur over their entire face. Alpacas don’t have as much fur, and their nose is a bit blunt. Many people find alpacas cuter from a facial perspective.
Alpacas have a tired look about them, and kids love to pet them. Personality-wise the resemblance of alpacas with dogs is something that a lot of farmers use to their advantage to attract visitors to the alpaca ranches. Baby alpacas are so adorable that you wouldn’t be able to stop yourself from petting them.
This doesn’t mean llamas are mean looking. They are cute as well, in their unique way.
Alpacas have a really fine and soft coat of fur. The size of the fur is around eighteen to thirty microns. This makes the fur perfect for different garments. Alpaca’s fiber can be used to make socks, shawls, hats, and scurf.
On the other hand, the llama has coarser hair fiber. The fur has a length of 55-65 microns. But even though the length is good enough, the quality of the fur isn’t up to the mark for producing garments. Having said that, llama babies have similar fiber to alpacas. Baby llamas have soft and delicate fur, and the length is around 30 microns. Farmers can use either of the two to earn a healthy amount of money.
The color variations in alpaca’s fiber are much greater than llamas. As discussed earlier, llamas have lesser hair on their face and head than alpacas. This is one of the easiest ways to tell them apart.
Solely based on quality, alpacas have better fiber than llamas. So, if you’re planning to farm either of the two, you should go for alpacas, considering you can sell the fur to the garments industry.
Llamas are confident and independent animals. Even when they are threatened, llamas tend to stand their ground without being flustered. If you ever go to an alpaca ranch, you will see that farmers use llamas to guard their alpaca herd. Llamas and alpacas get along really well and have a friendly relationship. The llamas spend idle time in the ranch until their friend alpacas are in danger.
Llamas distance itself from the herd whenever there is a predator nearby to take it away from the alpaca herd. This mentality shows that they are willing to sacrifice themselves to save others.
On the other hand, the alpacas are shy. They prefer to roam in a herd as they are scared of predators. If alpacas feel threatened, they run away from the danger. That’s why llamas and alpacas complement one another.
Historically, alpacas mainly served the purpose of providing fiber. For over five thousand years, we have bred and farmed alpacas to get their delicate fur. In Peru, alpacas have been bred for meat. The market has broadened now.
A lot of countries now breed alpacas for their meat. Many popular fashion brands use alpaca fiber, and slowly it is starting to become a go-to choice for various garment producers.
Llamas are used mainly for transportation and meat. As their fiber isn’t of the best quality, garment industries aren’t too keen on using their coat. Llamas are also used to protect farms. While some farms may use guard dogs, a lot of South American ranches use guard llamas. They might look cute, but their protective nature makes them perfectly suited for the job.
Llamas are great companions for travelers. Whether you are trekking through the wilderness or climbing a hill or mountain, llamas can tag along with you. Traditionally they have been used for this exact purpose. Llamas can carry your equipment and gadgets. If the llama is big enough, it can carry you as well.
But alpacas can’t be used for hiking. They are comparatively smaller in size to the llamas. Naturally, they aren’t equipped to take on tough tasks because of their structure and built.
The Wild Cousins of Llamas and Alpacas
Vicuna and Guanaco are known as the wild cousins of the Cameloid family. They live in the wilderness, and because of their traits, these animals aren’t bred and farmed.
The Guanaco is bigger than an alpaca but smaller than an average llama. Studies say the Guanaco is the early ancestors of the llama that we see in the current times. The Vicuna, on the other hand, is a relative of the alpaca specie. Because they roam in the wild, at one point, they were listed as an endangered species.
They were in the risk of going extinct in many countries, but after the implementation of various regulations, the numbers have grown. Still, they are a threatened species, and most governments are trying to protect them.
The Guanaco is much heavier than the Vicuna. Vicunas have overall better fiber, and that’s why they get hunted so much in South America. Hunters and garment industries make a huge profit from their fiber. Just to put things into perspective, a vicuna fiber scarf retails for as much as $1300.
The product also includes a certificate that states the country of origin, which is stamped by the respective country’s approval stamp. No wonder they were on the verge of going extinct!
Protecting the Cameloid Family
As things stand, it is evident that all the species of the Cameloid family, including llamas, alpacas, guanacos, and vicunas, are of great importance to us. We have found ways to tame and breed llamas and alpacas. But the other two species remain in the wild.
To protect the Vicuna and Guanaco from going extinct, governments need to put strict laws in order. Otherwise, hunters and poachers will keep on killing them for fiber. Many animal research centers are trying to breed the Vicuna in an unnatural environment. Domesticating them could be a viable option to keep them safe.
Llamas and Alpacas are adorable animals, and they are of great importance to us both financially and environmentally. Knowing the differences between the two should help you in identifying them.
The uniqueness of Llamas and Alpacas is what makes the two species truly special.