Llamas and alpacas.

These two members of the camelid family often look very much alike and share a lot of similarities. At first glance, it is very easy to confuse them for each other. For starters, they both spit when under distress or they feel fearful. They also use elaborate sounds as a means of communication. The fact that they are both native to Bolivia and Peru doesn’t make telling the difference between them any easier. Tourists have often thought they are taking a llama selfie when in fact it was an alpaca selfie.

However, there is plenty that sets the two apart. What's the difference between a llama and an alpaca? This post will tell you everything you need to know.

Llama vs Alpaca - An Overview

Llamas

The llama, a South American camelid species, is mostly domesticated by the Andean cultures for its meat and as a pack animal. Llamas migrated from North America to South America during the Great American Interchange. They can carry up to a third of their body weight when being used as a pack animal. When fully grown, the llama can reach a height of 5 feet and 11 inches. They have a lifespan of up to 25 years, though some live longer than 30 years. Llamas prefer to live in herds as they are social animals. Besides producing soft and lanolin-free wool, llamas can also learn simple tasks.

Alpacas

The alpaca, also found in South America, is closely related to the llama and has often been cross-bred. It is often kept for its fibre which is used for knitting and weaving items such as sweaters, blankets, hats, mittens and gloves, among other textiles. Just like the llama, alpacas also stay in herds. The male alpacas are dominative and aggressive in the herds. Full-grown alpacas usually have a height of 4 feet and 9 inches, and usually live up to 20 years.

Appearances

The two animals somewhat look alike. However, you will notice the difference in their physical appearance at a closer look. Llamas have wool made up of coarse hairs that are very soft. On the other hand, alpacas have a shaggy-looking lush fleece that comes in a wide range of colors. Llamas also have elongated faces with long ears which are banana-shaped, while alpacas have blunt faces with short ears.

Body size

You can use the body size of both animals to tell them apart. The alpaca is distinctively shorter and lighter than the llama. Full-grown alpacas will have a height of about 4 feet and 9 inches. Adult llamas, on the other hand, can reach a height of 5 feet and 11 inches.

When it comes to weight, alpacas have an average weight of up to 143 pounds while llamas average up to 250 pounds. It is, however, not uncommon to find a few llamas that weigh as much as 440 pounds.

Purpose

Due to the difference in their physical attributes and behaviors, the two animals are usually bred for different purposes. For instance, alpacas produce fleece that is generally warmer and less prickly than sheep wool. After shearing, the fleece is processed into the fibre which is used for knitting fabrics. They are preferred by people who are allergic to sheep wool. You can get as much as 10 pounds of fibre off an adult alpaca. The fibre is also flame and water-resistant.

Llamas, especially the male ones, are often castrated and used as guard animals because they respond aggressively to threats. They protect livestock from coyotes and other wild predators. However, they need some training to get used to the livestock, with young age being the best time to start training. Llamas can also carry up to a third of their body weight for over a distance of five miles. They are mostly used as pack animals for backcountry trips.

Personalities

Llamas, while being independent-minded, are gentle, loyal and can easily play the family pet. They are able to learn and bond faster with their owners. Like dogs, they will go to any extreme to protect their families.

Alpacas, on the other hand, are very social. Separating them from the herd can make them suffer from loneliness. They are, however, still independent-minded animals. They do things their own way, and this makes them take longer to warm up to human beings. Alpacas are easily scared and, like cats, will only attack when they feel cornered.

While alpacas are timid, llamas like to stand up for themselves. They will spit, lie down, kick, or refuse to move when they feel they are being mistreated or overloaded.

Native Home

Both animals can be found in South America (mostly Peru and Bolivia), and in farms across Europe and other parts of the world. However, llamas seem to prefer the high plateaus of the Andes Mountains in Bolivia as their native home. Llamas are also common in the historical ruins of Machu Picchu. You can also find them in Argentina and Chile.

The alpaca, on the other hand, is more native to southern and central Peru even though they are also common in the Andes. You can also find some alpacas in Chile and Ecuador.

Domestication

The popularity of both animals has grown and they are domesticated all over the world in farms. However, it is the llama that was the first to be domesticated between the two. Llamas were domesticated in the Andean highlands over 4,000 years ago. They found their way to the United States in the late 1800s when they were imported by a number of prominent personalities including William Randolph Hearst. Alpacas, on the other hand, were first imported to the United States in 1984.

Price

You already know that both animals are welcome members of any farm, or even as a pet. But how much would it cost you to get either? A male llama will cost you about $500 while a female goes for about $2000. Besides the gender, the price will also vary depending on the age of the llama, its quality of breed, and bloodlines. Female alpacas, on the other hand, can cost you up to $8000. The pricing will also depend on a number of factors such as coat type and color. Breeding stock alpacas can cost you tens of thousands of dollars to own.

Reproduction

While both female alpacas and llamas have a gestation period of roughly 342 days, male alpacas achieve sexual maturity before male llamas. Baby llamas, however, weigh much more than baby llamas. Baby alpacas can weigh up to 17 pounds, while baby llamas weigh between 24 to 35 pounds.

Breeds

While there are only two types of alpacas (the suri and huacaya breeds), there are five types of llamas: Ccara Sullo (classic llama), suri, vicuna, medium, and woolly llamas.

Suri alpacas produce fleece that is more of a lock style and lustre. Huacaya alpacas produce bright fleece with a lock structure.

The classic llama is the traditional llama, and is the tallest and the largest of the llamas. Their ears are also rounded at the tips instead of being spear-shaped. Classic llamas have double-coated fleece that enables them to withstand almost all types of weather. It is advisable to only shear llamas when the weather is warm. Medium llamas are often a crossbreed between classic and woolly llamas. They have a double-layered fleece with long and rough guard hairs. The striking difference between the medium and woolly llama is the shorter fibres on its legs, head, and ears while the rest of the body, including the neck, has long fibres.

Woolly llamas are the smallest of the llamas but their entire body, especially the ears, neck, and head, are covered in strong wool. The quality of their fibre is the same as that of the alpaca. Their fleece are however single-layered. Suri llamas have fibres that when compared to those of the woolly llama, are much less fine. They are very rare and their small genetic pool makes them difficult to breed. Vicuna llamas offer the softest wool, which, unfortunately, is very rare. You would need up to 30 vicuna llamas to make a single coat. The vicuna llama is usually shorn once every three years and then released back to the wild (otherwise, they will starve themselves). This type of llama is mostly found in the Andes Mountains and usually has an orange coat containing patches of white.

Why We Use Alpacas

Now that you know the difference between llamas and alpacas, maybe you have a better idea of why Winterborn Alpaca uses only premium Andean alpaca fleece in all of our products. Simply put, alpaca fur garments are the absolute softest, most luxurious pieces of clothing you’ll ever wear.