Llamas (Lama glama) and alpacas (Lama pacos) are like those two people you see around town all the time who look just alike. As with any doppelgangers, their friends know the difference between them — their mothers probably couldn’t even see the resemblance.
However, both of these pack animals have a fairly distinct appearance that makes them look somewhat like an ostrich crossed with a camel and a regular poodle to the typical person. What makes llamas and alpacas different from one another, then?
Fair enough, it’s not surprising given that llamas and alpacas are both herd animals and are genetically similar enough to interbreed and produce fruitful offspring.
Llamas and alpacas are both members of the Camelidae family, which also comprises camels and contains a group of ruminant ungulates with long necks and legs.
Alpacas, llamas, and their close wild relatives the guanaco (Lama guanicoe), and vicua (Vicugna vicugna), however, are products of the high, steep Andes Mountains of Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, whereas camels and dromedaries originated in deserts in Africa and Asia.
The differences between alpacas and llamas
There are some definite physiological and behavioural distinctions between llamas and alpacas despite the fact that they are close relatives to begin with and are frequently crossed today to increase the weight of their fleece. Alpacas often have smaller, more pointed ears than llamas do.
They are also smaller on average. Alpacas typically have shorter snouts than llamas, and their fleece is both finer and thicker. The typical llama weighs nearly twice as much as an alpaca, has tall, banana-shaped ears, a long nose, and a curly coat that resembles hair more than the alpaca’s coat does.
Because of its coarse texture, llama fiber is frequently used in products like rugs, ropes, and cushion fillings. The texture of baby llama fiber, which is much finer and softer than alpaca fiber, is comparable. Baby alpaca fiber in particular, which is softer, warmer, more lightweight, and hypoallergenic, is used in garments.
In terms of personalities, the two are distinct. Both are typically calm, but llamas are more assertive than the typical alpaca. Llamas are occasionally used as guard animals to protect other livestock from predators since they are more independent, vociferous, and assertive.
Though they tend to be more possessive than alpacas – llamas occasionally battle for supremacy — they are interested and don’t hate being around people or housed with other animals. Llamas are excellent guard animals for livestock like sheep and even alpacas because of their tenacious nature.
Alpacas, on the other hand, are reticent and hesitant with people but quite sociable and prefer to hang out with their family members. Within the herd, sisters, moms, and young alpacas frequently congregate.
Although neither animal is particularly lovable, llamas and alpacas are generally not dangerous.
“They can spit digestive juices at you, but that’s about all they can do,” Piper adds. Although it’s disgusting, they usually won’t even do that because it’s their sole defense from predators.