What is the Difference Between a Llama and an Alpaca?
An alpaca is not a llama, and a llama is not an alpaca. Although similar, they are two very distinct creatures. You will likely encounter both on your trip to Peru and or trekking to Machu Picchu.
The Inca people regard alpacas as a prized possession due to the quality of the fleece that can be woven into various garments. It is a very high-quality fiber that is still used today. Alpacas are hybrids breed of similar types of camelids called vicuna and the guanaco which were interbred approximately 6,000 years ago.
Alpaca vs Llama Similarities:
They are both of the camel family, called camelid. A common ancestor to camelids migrated to South America roughly 2.5 million years ago. They both live in the wild in Peru and South America. Both llamas and alpacas can be used for their wool. The wool from both is flame and water-resistant. But there are subtle differences between the two animals that you may not see unless you have a trained eye.
For those that cannot tell the difference, the ears are the most notable way to distinguish between an alpaca and llama. Alpaca ears are short straight spear-shaped.
Llamas have much longer, banana-shaped ears.
The size between the two animals is the next easiest way to differentiate between the two. A llama is about twice the size of an alpaca. An alpaca weighs approximately 150 lbs or 68 kilograms, while a llama is about 300 lbs up to 400 lbs or 136-181 kilograms.
Additionally, llamas are taller. An alpaca is 34-36 inches tall at the shoulder or 80-91 centimeters. In comparison, a llama is 42-46 inches in height or 107-117 centimeters.
Alpacas have a smaller face than a llama. The alpaca face is blunter and has more hair on it.
While a llama face and nose is longer with less hair on it.
Alpacas have much finer wool on it than a llama. Alpacas have finer hair, which is very dense and fast-growing. Alpaca fiber is normally between 18-30 microns which is good for shawls, hats, and socks. Additionally, there are more than 22 colors of alpaca fiber!
Llamas have a coarse outer coat (and a fine undercoat). Llama fiber is more coarse, normally 50-65 microns and not as good for making garments. One exception is baby llama fiber which can be very soft and below 30 microns giving a similar feel to alpaca fiber.
Alpacas tend to be shy herd animals and stay in packs. They stay in packs as a form of protection against predators.
Llamas are much more independent. When llamas are threatened they are much more confident than alpacas. This is the reason that llamas are more likely to spit, they can be more aggressive than alpacas.
Alpaca vs Llama Uses:
Because of the differences in the hair between llamas and alpacas, the two animals have different uses in Peru and South America. Because the fiber of an alpaca is very fine, the wool is used to make garments such as scarfs, hats, mittens, and other things.
Llama wool is not used. Llamas are used as work animals. They are known as the “ship of the Andes.” Due to their size, they are used as pack animals to carry things while trekking through the mountains. They tend to be quite defensive therefore they can also be used as defense animals for other livestock such as alpacas and sheep.
Llama vs Alpaca Character:
Alpacas are extremely intelligent and can learn tricks.
It isn’t very easy or possible to teach llamas tricks.
Alpaca and Llama Location
Alpacas are mostly found in central and southern Peru, but will also live in Chile, Ecuador, and Bolivia.
Llamas mostly live in the high plateaus of Bolivia but are also found in Argentina, Chile, and Peru. Between the two that you will see in Machu Picchu is the llama. So be sure to snap a picture with one!
Other Llama and Alpaca Fun Facts:
- Peru is home to 80% of the world’s Alpaca population.
- Alpacas are domesticated versions of vicugña pacos, which are South American ruminants that live high in the Andes Mountains.
- There are two types of alpacas: Suri and the huacaya alpaca. The suri has fiber that grows longer and forms dreadlocks. The huacaya alpaca has a wooly, dense, and crimped style of fleece.
- Alpaca wool is hypoallergenic.
There you have it! Now when you are trekking in Peru or at Machu Picchu, you will know the difference between an alpaca and a llama.