Three years ago I wasn’t “in the know” so telling the difference between an alpaca and a llama was like telling the difference between a honeybee and wasp. But now I know the difference between all of them. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
Although they are cousins (they both are descended from the wild guanaco), an alpaca is not a llama and vice versa. They have different physical characteristics as well different needs. Here are a few of the more common ones:
Llamas are bigger than alpacas. In fact, llamas can be twice as big as alpacas. With weights up to 400 pounds, they are much heavier than their 150 lb cousins. Llamas are not just fatter than alpacas, they are taller and longer too.
The ears have it
Probably the easiest way to determine whether you are looking at an alpaca or a llama is to face the problem, er animal, head on. Take a look at the ears, they can tell you who you have standing before you. Llama ears are long and banana shaped, curving inward at the top towards each other. In contrast, alpaca ears are shorter and shaped like spears.
Turn to the side
In profile, the llama head is longer and reminds me more of a small horse head. In contrast, alpaca snouts are shorter giving the face a squished appearance. Llama backs are straighter while alpaca backs tend to curve more.
Both llamas and alpacas were derived from the guanaco, a wild camelid native to the Andes Mountains. Llamas were domesticated for use as pack animals. They can carry up to 20-25% of their body weight or pull a cart. Additionally, llamas are used as guard animals, protecting flock animals such as goats, sheep and….alpacas.
Don’t try to get an alpaca to carry your stuff. They weren’t made for it. Alpacas were domesticated for their soft fiber, and not their packing ability.
Speaking of fiber
Both llama and alpaca fiber can be used for clothing. However, llama fiber tends to be more coarse due to a coarse outer coat with a softer inner coat. Alpacas were purposefully bred for luxurious fiber and have soft coats; their fiber is a knitter’s dream. Despite being larger, llamas produce less fiber than alpacas.
Neither llamas nor alpacas are extremely affectionate animals. They tend to be a bit stand-offish, staring at you curiously from a distance. However, llamas are known for being less skittish than alpacas, and more independent. This allows you to keep only one llama on your farm. Alpacas are herd animals and only feel safe when in a group.
Both animals are peaceful and have a calm manner. And although both animals have a bad reputation about spitting, they generally don’t spit at humans. If they do, you are probably doing something wrong.
So the next time you are driving down the road and see some of these beautiful animals, look closely and maybe you can answer the question, “Is that a llama or an alpaca?”
Blogging my way from A to Z as part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge! My theme for this year: Llama mama. A is for Alpaca.