7 differences between Llamas and Alpacas
Updated: Jun 15
What's the difference between an alpaca and a llama
Llama vs Alpaca; are they the same? Both llamas and alpacas are cute, fluffy. and look similar. What makes these animals different? This article will give some insight into their differences, the similarities and this might give you some insight into why they are so popular.
The first difference you might notice between these animals is that alpacas are smaller than llamas. Alpacas are about 2.5-3 ft tall and about 110-190 lbs as an adult. Llamas are much larger coming in at about 5.5-6 ft tall and 290-440 lbs as an adult.
All animals have their own personality but the general disposition of these two breeds is another aspect that separates them. Depending on the way animals are raised they can be more tame or not. Both are herd animals and want to be with other animals. Alpacas may generally be somewhat more tame or friendly but might not like being rushed at or handled roughly. (Does anyone like that?) They like quiet, gentle interactions.
Llamas are much more independent generally and stand-offish. For this reason and their size, they are often great companion animals. They can also be used as guardian animals to guard other animals like alpacas. But there are always exceptions to this rule so llamas may also be gentle and friendly. As the breeder or handler about their disposition.
While llamas and alpacas are both adorable, you can see a difference between these two species in their faces. Alpacas have smaller, short faces. Llamas on the other hand have a long snout.
Alpaca ears are short, pointed and stick out slightly to the side. Especially if they are listening to the sounds around them.
Llamas ears are long, more rounded on the top and cylindrical. Their ears might be similar to a donkey. Llamas "point" their ears in the direction they're listening, forward or backward.
Since alpacas have been bred for their fiber mainly, they are usually all one color. There are about 22 shades of alpacas ranging through the spectrum. Since they have been bred for thousands of years for their fleece it tends to be more uniform or all one color within this large spectrum.
Llamas range in coloring from white, grey to reddish brown all the way to black. They may have spots or can be found with more than one coloring in their fleece which sometimes makes it hard to process into a unified skein of yarn.
Alpaca vs Llama Fiber
If you stop into any yarn shop lately you may find a whole wall of yarn made of alpaca fiber but much less with llama fiber. Alpaca fiber or fleece has been revered for thousands of years, even being called "The fiber of the Gods" by the Incan civilization. Alpacas have very soft, fluffy, warm and lightweight fleece that can be worn right next to the skin. It grows back every year and they need to be shorn before it starts to get hot outside. There are two breeds of alpacas that grow a different types of fiber. Huacaya, pronounced “wah-ki-ya”. They are the more commonly recognized alpaca. They are generally referred to as being fluffy, with some fleece characteristics that could be compared to sheep wool or cashmere. Suri, pronounced “Sir-ee”, is the second type of alpaca. Suri alpacas have a silky type of fleece that hangs from their body in a "lock".
For Llamas, their hair grows more slowly and might only need sheering every year or two. They have two types of hair in their coats; a course guard hair and a soft undercoat. The guard hairs are much more course or rough and if not removed make llama fiber rough. Usually fiber that hasn't processed out these hairs is made into rugs and outer clothing, or things that aren't worn next to the skin because it can be itchy and irritating to the skin.
Alpaca and Llama breeding and purpose
Both alpacas and llamas are referred to as new world camelids. Which is a bit confusing since they have been bred for about 6,000 years. Alpacas have been bred for mainly for their fiber which has been prized for its softness and luster. Llamas were bred for meat and as a pack animal because if it's larger size. Their fiber is used but not as often as it is harder to process.
While both animals may have originated in Peru and Bolivia and are part of the Camelid family, Alpacas are thought to have been bred from the wild Vicuna. The llama may have been bred from the wild Guanaco.
Both animals have many differences that make them unique but they may have more things in common. Here are some things that probably led to you thinking they were similar in the first place and some of the other reasons they are so popular.
11 things Alpacas and Llamas have in common
They both have soft padded feet which is easy on pasture.
They have only bottom teeth in the front which makes them gentle grazers. (They won't rip out grass from the roots, just trim it.)
They have adapted to live in high mountains so they don't require a lot of water
They do not require a lot of food-only about 4 lbs a day.
They are tidy animals and tend to leave a manure pile in one area of a pasture.
They don't usually eat trees.
They will come if you call them by name
Both have an average pregnancy of 11.5 months
Both alpaca and llama fiber is low in lanolin. That means it doesn't have the "grease" that sheep wool offers. This makes it easier to process.
Both alpacas and llamas have hollow, lightweight fiber which makes it very warm and light weight.
They are both herd animals and have evolved to be together in a herd with other animals.
Additional information about Alpacas and Llamas
If you are interested in learning more about alpacas this is a good place to start. This site references books, associations, national conferences, fiber info, and some of the basics of owning alpacas.
Here is another resource with other information about getting started with Alpacas.
The Alpaca Owners Association has a learning center that you can choose to look into and see if this breed of animal is for you.
Here are some additional resources if you are interested in getting llamas.
Here is a link to some insight into Camelid history
Here is some more information on the difference between the two species.
Take a look at our Farm and Livestock Management Software to help keep track of your Alpaca or Llama herd.