You might think Alpacas and llamas are the same animals. Fair enough, at first glance, they look alike. They’re similar, such as being from the same family, Camelidae (camel family). But they’re different creatures.
First thought to be domesticated in ancient times by the Inca Empire, Machu Picchu was a hive of activity for breeding and rearing these creatures.
Despite being native to South America, there are about 300,000 of Alpacas and llamas in the United States.
To dig deeper into the great mystery of an alpaca vs llama, I’ve written a description of Llamas and Alpacas and described their similarities. Next, I’ve listed the differences, tips to identify them, and fun facts.
Llama vs Alpaca – Quick Facts – 11 Key Differences
- Face – Alpacas – short & blunt | Llamas – long & pronounced
- Ears – Alpaca – short & spear-shaped | Llama – long & curved
- Height – Alpacas – 81-99cm | Llamas – 1.7-1.8m
- Fleece – Alpaca – fine & fluffy | Llama – short & coarse
- Body – Alpacas – short & rounded | Llamas – long & straight
- Purpose – Alpaca – Fleece | Llama – Pack Animal, Guard, Meat
- Spitting – Alpacas – Hardly At Each Other | Llamas – At Each Other
- Strength – Alpaca – Weak | Llama – Strong
- Behavior – Alpacas – Social | Llamas – Independent, Curious
- Temperament – Alpaca – Timid, Gentle, Smart | Llama – Confident
- Weight – Alpacas – 48-84kg (150 lbs) | Llamas – 130-200kg (400 lbs)
I hope by the end of this post, you’ll know how to tell the difference between an alpaca and a llama!
Table Of Contents
- The Similarities
- The Differences
- Are Llamas Or Alpacas Friendlier?
- Why Alpacas Are Better Than Llamas?
- Are Llamas More Aggressive Than Alpacas?
- Does Peru Have Llamas Or Alpacas?
- More Fun Facts
Important Note: There are four similar animals all related to each other. The alpaca, the llama, and their camelid cousins, vicunas, and guanacos. They’re in the same family but all different.
Domesticated Alpacas are descendants of the wild South American ‘vicuña,’ from the camelid family, native to the central Andes.
Fun Fact:The scientific name of Alpacas is ‘Vicugna pacos.’ ‘Vicugna’ sounds like ‘vicuña,’ and vice-versa.
In 1974, they were endangered. Poachers heavily hunted them. There were 6000 left. Nowadays, their numbers have recovered to approximately 350,000.
Vicuñas are smaller than guanacos and are more delicate.
There are two breeds of alpaca, Suri and Huacaya. Most are the second variety.
Suri hair is long, straight, and tassel-like, a bit like dreadlocks. The hair grows toward the ground. Less than ten percent of the alpaca population are suris.
Huacaya has short, crimpy, and fluffy fleece. Soft to touch, that’s why it’s sought after for knits. Though they look plump and rounded, it’s their hair. Their neck and body are slim underneath.
Their fur comes in a wide range of colors, from white to an almost jet black.
They have a lifespan of about 15-20 years.
Fun Fact: Huacaya fleece lacks lanolin, making it hypoallergenic.
Llamas are also a South American camelid, related to the Guanaco. They’re believed to come from North America (around 40 million years ago).
Three million years later, they migrated to South America, because of the Great American Interchange.
In North America, around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, camelids were extinct. They’ve been repopulating since 2007 in South America.
Guanacos are larger than vicuñas but smaller than llamas. They live in Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Patagonia, and parts of Paraguay. Guanacos are one of the largest mammals on the continent.
After vicuñas, llama fiber is precious, it’s incredibly soft and warm.
They have long, skinny necks, big bodies, and small gray faces with pointy ear.
Llamas and Alpacas have a lot in common.
- Llama and Alpacas are from the Andes Mountains, in central and South America.
- Lanolin-free fleece
Let the similarities confuse you no longer. Here is a list of the difference between Alpacas and llamas.
- Facial Shape
- Ear Shape
- Body Shape
1. Facial Shape
This one of the easiest ways to distinguish an alpaca from a llama.
Alpacas faces are short, have a blunt muzzle, and are very fluffy. They have a lot of thick, soft fur, usually on top of the head and around the neck.
Llamas have a long face, similar to a kangaroo or horse, and prominent muzzles. Llamas don’t have much hair on their heads but a bit on their necks.
2. Ear Shape
Another way to quickly tell them apart is to observe their ears.
Llama ears are long, curved, and more commonly known as ‘banana-shaped.’
Alpaca ears are short and are spear-shaped, with a point at the top.
Full-grown llamas grow to around 1.7 to 1.8 meters tall. Alpacas are 81 – 99 cm tall at the withers (shoulder area).
Llamas have short, coarse hair, which is double-coated. The undercoat is softer and more delicate, sometimes used for garments. The rough outer coat is used for lead ropes and rugs.
The Huacaya alpaca has very thick, soft, crimped fleece, similar to sheep wool. Suri have silky dreadlock-like hair that grows toward the ground and better suited for weaving.
5. Body Shape
Llamas have relatively long, straight backs, better suited to carry packs. Alpacas have a more rounded, sloping body.
Llamas are pack animals. They can travel far with a heavy load without needing a lot of water. They’re used for meat. Also, guards for livestock like sheep, and others.
Alpacas are bred for their soft fleece.
Alpacas don’t spit often, but they spit at each other. They don’t usually spit at humans. The more agitated the alpaca is, the further it goes into its intestinal stomachs to bring up spit. Pleasant!
Llamas spit at each other, when showing they’re more dominant, and to make sure the ‘lower class’ is disciplined. They don’t usually spit on humans.
Since llamas are used for carrying packs, they can hold loads up to 25 – 30 percent of their body weight for 8 – 13 km. They are also able to protect themselves and can ward off animals such as coyotes and feral dogs.
Alpacas, however, cannot protect themselves. Some farmers use llamas as guard animals and to provide protection for alpaca herd.
An alpaca is social, they’re herd animals. If separated from its pack, it would die from loneliness.
A llama is independent, curious, and approaches people without hesitation.
The personality of a llama and alpaca are quite different.
An alpaca tends to be very skittish and timid, but gentle. They stay close to their herd. Very intelligent, some people teach them to do tricks, like a dog!
Llamas are curious and more confident.
Fully grown llamas approximately weigh between 130 – 200 kg, or 400 pounds.
Alpacas generally weigh between 48 – 84 kg or 150 pounds.
Are Llamas or Alpacas friendlier?
It depends on the individual animal, but alpacas are generally friendlier. Llamas are more aggressive and suspicious of strangers.
Why Alpacas are better than llamas?
In terms of temperament and fiber characteristics, Alpacas are better than llamas. But each species is unique and useful in different ways.
Are Llamas more aggressive than Alpacas?
Yes, because Llamas have an innate desire to protect and exert their dominance. Alpacas are shy, timid, and more likely to ‘fly’ than ‘fight’ if provoked or threatened.
Does Peru Have Llamas Or Alpacas?
Peru has both llamas and Alpacas! Both animals are a native of the country and have been a part of the local customs, traditions, and history for a long time.
Llamas – They have a fine undercoat and a coarser outer coat. The undercoat is much softer, used mainly for handicrafts and clothes.
The outer coat is very rough and is used for ropes and rugs. Llama fiber is lightweight but incredibly warm.
Alpacas – As I mentioned above, there are two types, the Huacaya and the Suri. The Huacaya Alpaca fiber is crimpy, warm, elastic, and hypoallergic. It’s used for knitting and crochet. Suri Alpaca fiber doesn’t have a crimp and suited to weaving.
They’re even softer and warmer than cashmere! If you knit, treat yourself to an alpaca sweater. You’ll wonder what you were missing!
More Fun Facts
- Alpaca wool is water and flame resistant.
- Peru, Bolivia, and Chile have the largest Alpaca population.
- Alpacas have padded feet, unlike cows who have hoofed feet. They tread lightly, not damaging pastures.
- Both animals don’t have top front teeth. They snip the grass, not ripping the whole piece of grass out, including its roots.
- A Llama communicates by humming.
- Alpacas have excellent bathroom etiquette. The herd all place their poop in one spot. It’s easier for the farmer to collect fertilizer.
- Vicuna fiber is one of the most valuable natural fibers ever!
- Llama poop has no odor.
- Many people have businesses where they have hand made products from Alpaca and Llama wool. Such as ponchos, hats, scarves, socks, sweaters, blankets, even toys!
I hope this article has helped you to understand a bit more about these creatures! If you have any questions or if I’ve missed anything, please let me know in the comments.
Do you work with Alpaca wool? Have you learned something about these animals, or which one do you prefer? I’d love to hear your thoughts.