Llama vs Alpaca: Similarities and Differences
The South America is a homeland to a variety of exotic animals, like anacondas, Andean condors, etc. The camelids are one of the cutest species, which inhabit the vast lands of this continent. Among them, you can find domesticated llama and alpaca, as well as the wild vicuña and guanaco. Around 99% of these creatures live only in the South America region and play a vital role in the life of local people.
Speaking about llama vs alpaca, we should clarify that a lot of people may not notice a clear distinction between these two animals. So really – what is the difference between a llama and an alpaca? What is their role, and where do they come from?
The Origins of Llama and Alpaca
Around 35-50 million years ago, two ancestors of the modern camelids wandered North America’s region. Protylopus, a rabbit-sized creature with camel features, was the first of its kind. The second one was Poebrotherium, a goat-sized mammal. Eventually they formed a biological tree, called “Lamini”. This family includes llama and alpaca, vicuña and guanaco.
The herd migrations, which started around 2-3 million years ago, were a deciding factor for the survivability of their kind. North America’s species were extinct during the Ice Period, as they were not adapted to the harsh, cold climate yet. Other species who migrated to South America survived and became the ancestors of modern llamas and alpacas. Alternatively, the species, which migrated to the far East, became the ancestors of the modern camels.
The indigenous people of the Andes Mountains of Peru adopted these animals nearly 4000 years ago to a great effect. Llamas were used as pack animals since the pre-Colombian era. They could carry a decent weight or serve as a source of wool and meat for their owners. A llama was a sign of wealth during the times of the Inca Empire. As for the alpacas – their amazing fiber is sung in the legends of generations.
Today, both llamas and alpacas are widely spread through entire South America and you can find them nearly anywhere.
10 Similar Things Comparing Llamas vs Alpacas. What Do They Have in Common?
There are several important common features you should know to easily identify alpaca and llama. Here is a list of similar things comparing llamas vs alpacas:
- Both alpaca and llama are herbivorous mammals, who were domesticated by people. As opposed to that, vicuña and guanaco were never domesticated and remained wild animals. Still, the offspring between these wild and domesticated animals is not rare. The domesticated animals, like llama and alpaca, are not endangered and are quite fertile. However, vicuña and guanaco are endangered, and their wool remains the most precious in the world.
- Can alpaca or llama spit at a human? Oh, yes – they can! They also can spit at the members of the herd if they feel threatened or angered. It is also a way to show domination in the herd. They usually won’t bite a human, however, be gentle with them. Otherwise, they may spit at you as well. It’s not an easy task to anger llama and alpaca, due to their calm character.
- Since pre-Colombian times, indigenous people of the Andes region used the wool of these mammals to create a warm cloth. This practice remains popular even now, due to the evolution of the fiber industry. The alpaca meat and llama meat were not a common type of food, as it requires a lot of time to grow such animals. However, with the advent of new llamas and alpacas farms, their red meat became a delicacy, available to most people.
- Both llama and alpaca do not have typical signs of the ruminant mammals. For example, horns or hoofs, which are a common sign for a deer or cow, were not formed during the evolution of llama and alpaca. Instead, they have a unique, compromised three-chambered stomach. Most ruminant mammals have a four-chambered stomach. It means that they usually regurgitate food, like cows, before eating it again.
- Their feet look like leathery pads with two toenails.
- The level of intelligence of both llama and alpaca is quite high, and they can be trained as personal pets. Both are used as therapy animals.
- The average lifespan of alpacas vs llamas is quite close – 15 to 30 years for llama and around 20-25 years for alpaca.
- It is quite beneficial to own llamas and alpacas, as they are not gluttonous and prefer hay. Usually they eat 1 around 1.5-2% of their body weight per day and drink around 1% respectfully. That is a quite low investment. In comparison, if you own cows – they eat and drink nearly ten times more.
- The feces of llama and alpaca does not have the strong “odor” and it is easier to clean up. Moreover, both camelids are quite intelligent and know where their loo is located. It not only helps people to make the cleanup faster, but also prevents the spread of various diseases. The so-called “llama beans” are a great fertilizer, which is quite popular among farmers.
- You may wonder where do llamas live along with alpacas and why they need such thick wool? Both llama and alpaca live at a very high altitude in the Andes mountains of South America (up to 4700 meters). They have perfectly adapted to low temperatures and can withstand harsh environments. They can also navigate through rocky roads without the risk of stumbling.
Key Difference Between Llama and Alpaca
When we speak about the difference between alpaca and llama, there is a common stereotype that these two have a lot in common. And while they do share some general features, you will hardly find two more different creatures than them. So what is the difference between llamas and alpacas?
Here is a list of top 9 differences for Llama vs Alpaca:
- The visual style of both camelids is immediately striking.
Llamas have an elongated muzzle with less fur on it. Their ears are curved, and they are quite tall (around 1.8 meters vs 1.5 meters of alpaca).
Alpacas have a small, flatter muzzle with a lot of fur on it. Their ears are pointed and short.
- The overall size of llamas vs alpacas is nearly twice different in the favor of llama (400 pounds vs 150 pounds).
- The wool is probably the most important visual difference. The “plush” alpaca wool looks fluffy and is quite adorable. It is very popular among tourists. The llamas wool has a harsh-looking outer coat, which is located right above a soft undercoat. It is similar to a long, thick guard hair. Needless to say, that llamas wool is valued much less than alpaca wool. Still, it’s better than sheep wool.
- The color of the fiber is also quite different in its range of shades. They both share around 22 natural colors like black, white, gray, and brown. However, the coat of llamas wool is marked, while the coat of alpaca wool is more uniform.
- Llamas are quite independent creatures, while alpacas are very social and try to keep themselves near their herd.
- By the way, did you know that llamas can protect the herd of alpacas from predators? Surprisingly, they can be trained as effective and fearless guards due to their highly protective nature. The good thing is that it won’t take much time investment, as the protectiveness is in their genes. They prefer to enter the defense stance, make a loud cry to alarm the herd, and then charge at their enemy, kicking and stomping them. With a surprisingly high speed of 50-60 kilometers per hour, it can easily outrun humans or even feral dogs.
Unlike llamas, alpacas are shy and usually may not protect themselves from predators, like coyotes. That’s why llama and alpaca share a great bond. Although, it’s not recommended to use more than one llama as a guard for the same herd of sheep or alpacas. The reason is simple – it may lose interest in protecting its herd and pay more attention to its partner.
- Due to their natural size, llamas were used as pack animals in Peru 5000 years ago, and they still are one of the best pack animals in South America. They can carry around 20-30% of their own weight for 30 miles per day.
As for the alpacas – they are quite gentle and are not fit for this role. You also should not try to ride them, as you can harm their back. Also, riding an alpaca can be regarded as abuse by professional breeders.
So if you’ll need to transport your baggage anywhere – there is no real competition between alpaca vs llama. Keep in mind, that llamas are very intelligent and know their limits. They won’t let you overload them. If you’ll try – they may simply lay down on the ground and wait until you unload them. And they can be quite stubborn and persistent, so you can’t force llamas easily. Just don’t be rude to them, or they may spit you, in the worst case.
- Usually it’s hard to distinguish the weird sounds they both make. What are the llama noises? Is it that different from alpaca? In fact, yes – they are quite diverse. They both make humming noises at a high pitch, usually to alert the herd. Alpacas usually make pensive or hooting noises like “mmmm”, while llama noises are gargling and their scream is more piercing.
- The full gestation period of both llama vs alpaca is similar (around 11.5 months) and they both stand when giving birth. However, the herd of female llamas (called dams) usually gathers around the newborn to protect it from predators and male llamas. It really differs them from the herd of more faint-of-heart alpacas.
Baby Llama VS Baby Alpaca: Who Is The Cutest, and How Much Do They Cost?
There is a special term for baby alpaca and baby llama in Spanish – they are called “cria”. The first known use of this term happened in 1984, and it basically means “litter or baby animal”. Usually, both llama and alpaca can have up to one newborn per year. The possibility of twins is quite rare and usually dangerous to both mothers and babies. The male babies are called “machos”, while female alpacas are called “hembra”. The newborn alpaca weans at 7 months and usually weighs up to 9 kilograms, while the baby llama weans at 6 months and weighs up to 14 kilograms.
A very important question is the price. Can you afford a newborn alpaca? How much does baby llama cost? If you’ve decided to buy one – you need to understand, that there are 3 main categories of these animals:
- Pet category;
- Farm-quality category;
- Show-quality category.
What is the difference between a llama and an alpaca categories?
- Pets are not fitted for reproducing and are not registered in most cases. The price of a baby llama pet and a baby alpaca pet is usually around $200-300.
- Farm-quality animals can generate high revenue because of their fiber, that’s why their price is always higher than the price of pets. The price of farm-quality baby llama and baby alpaca is sometimes near $1500-5000.
- The show-quality llama and alpaca have premium physical genes and mental stability. The price of premium baby llama and baby alpaca can start at $5000 and up to $750000.
The important nuance, which affects the price, is the fiber of the babies. For example, the fleece of baby alpaca has the best quality (around 21-24 microns). It’s rare, that’s why it’s usually mixed with the fleece of sheep. The royal baby alpaca fleece fibers of 20 microns or fewer. You may not shear them more than once a year.
Fun facts about llamas vs alpacas
- The wool of llama and alpaca is fireproof, hypoallergenic, and does not retain water.
- Alpacas have only two varieties, which are Huacaya (90%) and the rare Suri (10%). The Huacaya lives mainly in North America and has a curly fiber, while Suri fiber hangs from their body as twisted strings.
- When alpacas want to get to the loo – they form a line, where each alpaca is in a queue.
- We’ve already told that both llama and alpaca are quite smart and could learn lots of tricks. Alpacas can learn different colors, play catch and even jump through the obstacles! Llamas can bow to people, kiss them or show their straight legs in weird ways
- The llama meat and alpaca meat have a high concentration of protein (74%) and are quite low on calories.
- While llamas have three pairs of front teeth, alpacas do not have them in the top-front part of their muzzle. It makes them look even more adorable and silly.
- Indigenous tribes in Chiribaya culture used these animals in the sacrificial rites. The mummified llamas and alpacas were found under the houses by the archeologists.
- Llama is a national symbol of Peru and could be found on the local coins.
- The national day of Llamas is December 9, while the national day of Alpacas is September 26.
- The blood of llama and alpaca has antibodies which could become a new way to cure flu.