Llamas and Alpacas

If you are ever lucky enough to come across either a Llama or an Alpaca, Do you think you could identify which of the two species it belongs to? I know I couldn’t….. Llamas and alpacas are very similar in appearance yet can be easily distinguished by several physical differences. The single most-distinguishing physical difference between alpacas and llamas are their size. Alpacas are smaller, around 90 cm (35 inches) high at the shoulder and weigh between 55 and 65 kg (121 to 143 pounds). Llamas can grow to the size of about 120 cm on average (47 inches) at the shoulder and weigh about 113 kg (250 pounds).

Llamas and Alpacas have been used by humans for transportation and fleece production for thousands of years. Because Llamas are much larger in size, thety have been bred mostly to be a pack-carrying animal. This purpose dates back to the Inca Empire. During the Spanish conquest, the llamas became pack animals in mines, bringing ore down from the mountains. The average llama can carry a load of 45 to 60 kg (99 to 132 pounds) for up to 30 km (18.6 miles) each day.

Alpacas, on the other hand, are much smaller and therefore don’t make very good pack animals. Instead, they have a very fine, silky coat that can create soft and warm textiles. They are sheared once per year. You can find plenty of alpaca textiles for sale in markets across the Andes. Additionally, indigenous groups like the Inca frequently ate alpaca meat, a lean, almost sweet source of protein. Today, you can find alpaca meat in many restaurants across the Peruvian Andes.

Their faces are also dissimilar. Llamas have a longer face with a larger muzzle. Alpacas, on the other hand, have round, smooshed faces. They also have fluffy fur on their face, especially on their foreheads. Llamas tend to have short and thin fur around their face. Alpacas have softer facial features than llamas. Because of this, many people believe alpacas are the cuter of the two.

Both animals are very kind, intelligent, curious and gentle. Alpacas are shy herd animals and like to stick together when threatened by a predator. Llamas are independent and more confident when threatened. This is why you may hear of alpaca ranchers having a ‘Guard llama’ to protect their alpaca herd. The llama will live peacefully with the alpacas and protect them if threatened by a predator.  Some alpaca ranches will have 1 guard llama that will protect the herd of alpacas. If a predator is nearby, the llama will distance itself from the herd of alpacas and draw the predator away from the herd of alpacas. 

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