Llamas and Alpacas: Differentiate Between The Two Camelid Cousins

If you plan on visiting South America, you’ll surely come across two very similar animals: Llamas and Alpacas. Although the resemblance between these two camelid cousins is striking, they differ in a number of aspects. Each of them has his own habitat and lifestyle.

For the uninitiated, it is very difficult to differentiate between the two. I’ll try to summarize the main differences and similarities before getting characteristics’ details of each one of them.

Main differences between Llamas and Alpacas

llamas and alpacas

The Llama is bigger and stronger. He can be 6 feet tall while Alpacas’ height is 3 feet maximum.  Andean people used to consider Llamas means of transportation while they used Alpacas for meat consumption purposes as their meat is very tasty. Both Llamas and Alpacas can be pets.

Llamas are a bigger population in the Andes but cannot live in altitudes higher than 13 000 feet. Alpacas can live in higher altitudes (16 000 feet).

Of course, the resemblance between Llamas and Alpacas is striking. But you can differentiate between them just by looking at their faces: Alpacas’ ears are much shorter that Llamas. Moreover, Alapcas’ head is shorter and that’s why, in my sense, they are cuter.

As for their character, Llamas do not seem to appreciate cuddles. They quickly get irritated when someone caresses them. Alpacas are completely the opposite. They are touchy feely and like to play with the kids.

Llamas live around 16 years while Alpacas can live around 20 years.

Genetic similarities

From the genetic standpoint, these two camelids do not have the same ancestor. This was the general belief until 2001, when a study showed that the two cousins have different ancestors. Llama’s ancestor is the Guanaco. Alpaca’s ancestor is the Vicuña.

Note that the Guanaco and the Vicuña still exist. Cross-breeding operations on the 4 camelids are easy thanks to their genetic similarities . According to the same study, although we can’t  physically observe it, 80% of the tested Alpacas are in part hybrid with Guanacos and Llamas. Unless we perform a genetic test, It is then impossible to distinguish between “pure” Alpacas and hybrids.

For obvious conservation reasons, we do not voluntarily cross-breed Alpacas with Llamas.

History

Llamas peru

Camelids originated in North America. During ice age, they moved to South America looking for a warmer weather and settled in the Andes. Andean people started domesticating Llamas and Alpacas a long time ago (3 or 4 thousand years). They are among the most ancient domesticated animals in the world.

Llamas played a vital role in the life of Native Americans. Andean people paid them great esteem: they were at the same time pack mules, source of food and clothing, and a source of fuel as well. That’s why the Incas used to call them the “silent brothers”.

Let us now know more about these two fascinating animals.

Llamas

llama

As we said earlier, the Llamas are the biggest of camelid species. Llama’s ears are long and have curved ends. Keepers call them Banana ears.

Their weight varies between 250 lbs. and 350 lbs. depending on their height.

Species

Unlike dogs and horses, there are no actual breeds of Llamas. But we can classify them in three species. These species essentially differ in the quality of their wool as well as its quantity.

Classical Llama

classical llama

Ccara Sullo is their other name. These are double coat animals with long straight hair and soft wool. This breed is the biggest of all Llamas. It also has less wool than others.

Classical Llama has short fur on his head and ears. The body is richer in wool.

They have straight conformation which makes them perfect as pack animals.

Wooly Llama

wooly llama

Another name for Wooly Llamas is Tapadas. Unlike the Ccara Sullo, his wool is more abundant on ears, head, and lower parts of his body parts.

They are smaller and calmer than the classical Llamas, but are less energetic. We can only use in hikes in the woods or in mountains.

There is a variation of wooly Llamas that we call Lanuda. They look much like the Tapadas but have thicker eyebrows and fluffy ears.

Suri Llama

suri llama

Photo credit: Van Pelt via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

Rarer and much less known. The Suri Llama is characterized by his thin twisted wool and lustered fleece.

After archeologists found ancient bones from the Incas period, they consider Suri Llamas a distinct specie. People used to think it was only the result of a cross-breeding between Suri Alpacas and Classical Llamas.

Silky Llama

silky llama

We can obtain The silky Llamas by cross-breeding wooly Llamas and Suri Llamas. This specie presents the advantage of having silky wool. The animal’s fleece is loose and wavy.

Keeprs use Llamas as pack animals or as pets. As we said earlier, thanks to their size, classical Llamas can carry heavy loads. The variety of wool colors easily seduces the keepers.

Character

Llamas are docile and curious. Like cats, they are distant and like to keep away from people and other pets.

That is, Llamas love to live in herds and take care of each other. When there is a newborn member in the heard, they gather to welcome him and blow air in his nose to help him breath. They also gather when one of them passes away.

Llamas are very intelligent. They easily learn new things. They basically can do all what a dog and a horse can do: carrying packs, towing carts, jumping obstacles, looking for objects, laying down when we ask them to do so…etc. They are also kind with kids and appreciate letting them be on top of them.

Llama always keep quiet. All we can hear from them is a tender “Mmmm” from a mother to her son or an early morning tongue clapping as a sign of excitement. If they are angry or feel in danger, they make sounds similar to bird screeching.

Dogs bite, cats scratch. Llamas spit!! It’s their way to say go away. Hopefully, they rarely do it to human. They only use their spit to solve herd problems.

Usefulness and attributes

As we said earlier, Llamas are extremely intelligent and learn to perform different tasks. They can be very helpful to keepers in a number of ways:

Carrying pack during hikes

llama packing

Llamas can carry packs. Like dogs, they have pads under their feet. For this reason, they are allowed in natural reserves while horses and mullets are not. A Llama can carry around 30% of his weight.

Watching over farm animals

Keepers are lately using as an alternative to shepherd dogs. They are reliable and keep close to the herd. They get along well with all types of farm animals: cows, sheep, and chickens.

When he perceives danger (a fox for example), a Llama would always make the right choice. Either he moves the herd away or he goes for the battle. Generally, when predators see the Llama coming to them, they run away. If not, the Llama can always win the battle: he kicks, jumps, spits, makes noises until he forces the invader to give up.

The best Llamas for this job are older than a year and half males. If younger, they can sometimes run away from danger letting the herd face his destiny alone. Females are good guardians but are so valuable one shouldn’t risk them being injured.

Cleaning woods

Llama eating

Llamas can transform a wood full of bad weed to a beautiful green park. They won’t only clean the undergrowth, they would also maintain order. Llamas can eat stinging nettles, ferns, and of course weed. They also can eat tree leafs they can reach which makes crossing the woods way easier.

This cleaning makes it easier for sunlight to enter the undergrowth which fosters growth of trees and diminishes risks of fire.

Unlike goats, Llamas never remove trees barks.

For all these attributes, they are now more frequently used in certain natural reserves as they eat all sorts of vegetation rather than a unique specie that might go extinct.

Llamas are very clean

Llamas have the particularity of piling up their manure in the same place. In a big meadow, they would agree on a special place where all herd members would leave their poop.  It makes it easier for the farmer to pick everything easily.

Unlike those of goats and dear, Llamas manures are inodorous.

They also have some unique properties that makes their manure a magical fertilizer. It is rich in nitrogen and is very well adapted to plants’ nutritional needs. We can put some “Llama beans” directly on the plants. We can also use it as mulch around plants.

Source of wool and meat

llama wool milk

In South America, natives slaughter Llamas to eat their meat. It has some great advantages over beef. It is tastier and healthier. For its preparation, it is often salted or dried.

Female Llamas’ Milk is also tasty and nutritionally rich. But they tend to produce it in relatively small quantities.

Taking care of Llamas

llama care

Llamas are excellent for domestic keeping. They are strong and healthy. They resist well to cold weather, to rain and snow. Llamas appreciate having plenty of water in the meadow so that they can cool off when it is hot.

If you raise one of them, here are some useful tips. Every 2 years, tow their wool. Twice a year, cut their nails like you would do for a horse (by simply raising their legs).

Llamas have pads under their feet. It is flexible and has a nail at its end. It needs to be cut from to time to time. Otherwise, it would be difficult for the Llama to walk.

Llamas need to be dewormed 2 to 4 times a year. It is also recommended to give them an anti-tetanus vaccination.

Keeping Llamas is not costly. Thanks to their 3 compartments stomach, tey tend to eat less than other farm animals (approximately as much as a big sheep).

As for their shelter, the keeper can use the same fence used for sheep (50 – 60 inches fence is suitable to enclose them).

Alpacas

alpaca

Alpacas are the smallest camelids. Their bodies are entirely covered with wool and have short straight ears. Thanks to their intelligence and kindness, they are often used by families as pets. Some competitions are often organized in order to test the animal’s agility. Other beauty competitions are frequent as well.

Alpacas can produce 4 to 12 lbs. of wool a year. Genetic Selection improves wool quantity and quality. It becomes thinner, shinier, and more resistant.

Even if you are not a professional farmer, raising a couple of them can be a good source of revenue. Given their kindness and perfect character, keeping them quickly becomes a passion as well. Alpacas need to live in herds. They become irritated when they can’t see other Alpacas. For this reason, never raise only one of them.

The study we mentioned earlier, led by Doctor Jane Wheeler, demonstrated that the Alpacas came from Vicuña domestication. There are 3 million Alpacas in Peru, 300 000 in Bolivia and 30 000 in Chili.

As we said earlier, the majority of them is not genetically pure. That’s why efforts are being made to preserve the remaining “pure” members.

There are two types of Alpacas:

Huacaya:  His fleece looks much like the sheep’s fleece. Fleece quality depends on several criteria like smoothness and brightness. Wool density, crimp and length are also considered.

Suri: Has a fleece in dreadlocks on all of his body. Keepers look for the same fleece and wool characteristic compared to that of the Huacaya.

Food

alpaca eating

Like Llamas, Alpacas are uminant herbivore. He differs from traditional ruminants in that he only has 3 stomachs while they have 4.

Alpacas have a very efficient digestive system. Feeding Alpacas is quiet simple. They have the particularity of adapting to any kind of vegetal food even if it is actually different from they actually need.

They don’t need big quantities of protein (8% to 10% of protein is more than enough). That is, fiber is essential for them. No less than 25% of their daily needs should be composed of fiber. Needless to say that plenty of water is a must.

Alpacas also need plenty of preferably varied vegetation: natural meadows are perfect environment for them. Hay, water and minerals are to be included in their diet. Granules and Flattened grains are given in case the animal is overly thin.

Of course, nutritional needs vary depending on the animal’s age, sex, level of activity etc. But broadly speaking, an Alpaca should be fed around 2% of his body weight per day.

Supplements can be used to provide more vitamins and minerals.

Shelter

aplaca shelter

Alpacas do not attack fences. A 2 feet fence with a net (like the one used for sheep) is more than enough.

If not, provide for an adequate hut. You can leave both sides open as Alpacas like to have a natural view unless you are living in a very cold area.  In this case, you can leave the door open for them to enter and exit at their will.

In terms of meadow space, an Alpacas needs around 1000 yards square to feel free. They also like to rest under tree shelter: the more trees there are, the better.

Care

docile llama

Like for Llamas, frequent care consist of cutting nails, deworming and vaccination.

Alpacas are quite rustic and strong. They usually do not have any particulars health problems. Nevertheless, they have sensitive skin that is frequently victim to mites. It is important to treat the first symptoms and provide adequate mineral supplements.

Keep in mind that you should perform towing at least annually.

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