Alpaca vs. Llama: Similarities And Differences Explained

Many people think there is no difference between an Alpaca and a Llama. But there are many. They are from the camelid family but belong to two distinct wild species of camelids. Alpacas descend from vicuna lamoids, while llamas are from the guanacos. 

The vicunas were short, with a fuzzy coat, while the guanacos were smaller and lighter than the vicunas. Scientists believe their wild cousins were alive about 7,000 years ago. The camelid family was native to South America, specifically the Andes Mountains. 

In this article, we'll explore 12 differences between llamas and alpacas. Here, we will discuss the differences in size, height, facial structures, coat texture, and breeding purposes. 

Related Read: Alpaca Facts, Llama Facts

What are the differences in characteristics between llamas and alpacas?

1. An average alpaca is smaller than a llama.

alpaca
Alpaca, Photo by Dylan Leagh on Unsplash.

The first difference we will examine between Alpacas and llamas is their size difference. Alpacas have a smaller physique when compared to llamas. Alpacas tend to have slender bodies with long legs and necks. They have small heads and large ears.  The Alpaca species are the smallest of other camelid species2.

An average adult alpaca weighs between 45 to 90 kg. The body length of an alpaca ranges between 47 and 85 inches, while its tail length is between 6 and 10 inches. Huacaya alpaca species are slightly bigger. Their weight ranges between 45.3 kg and 86.1 kg, and they are about 39 inches tall at the shoulder.

Llamas, on the other hand, are larger than alpacas. They weigh between 130 kg and 160 kg and grow up to 1.8 m in length.

2. Alpacas and llamas have varying facial structures. 

Llamas and alpacas have different face structures.  An Alpaca's face has a short length and looks squished in, while a llama’s face is long. Alpacas have more hair on their faces than llamas. 

3. Alpaca ears are shorter than llama ears. 

alpaca
Alpaca, Photo by cocoparisienne on Pixabay.

Another way to tell the difference between alpaca and llama is their ears. Llamas have short spear-shaped ears, while alpacas have banana-shaped ears. Llamas have short, pointed ears, and alpacas have long, banana-shaped ears.   

4. Alpaca fiber has a different texture from llama fiber.  

A difference between an alpaca and a llama is their hair. A llama's hair texture varies drastically from an alpaca’s hair texture. Alpacas are famous for their luxurious fleece. Males produce up to 8 pounds of alpaca fleece annually, while females grow up to 6 pounds of alpaca wool. 

Llama also has a fine coat, but alpaca’s coat is softer. Llama has a coarse overcoat, but we still use its soft undercoat to create yarn and clothes. Manufacturers use coarse llama wool to make rugs and ropes. They also use baby llama fiber to create fabric similar to alpaca’s soft fiber.  

However, two alpaca species have different coat textures. Hucaya alpacas have short and dense hair that grows perpendicular to their skin. In contrast, Suri alpacas have long hair hanging off their skin. Suri’s fleece often hangs loose, forming dreadlocks.

5. Llamas and alpacas' coat colors are different.  

Both llamas and alpacas have multiple coat colors, but alpacas have more color ranges. Llamas tend to have solid colors, i.e., white, brown, red, brown, and beige. Alpacas have 22 fiber colors and various color blends. They often call an alpaca with multiple colors fancy.

6. Alpaca vs llama: Teeth 

Llamas have enamel around their incisor teeth, while alpacas only have enamel in front of them.

7. Llamas and alpacas have different personalities. 

llama
Llama, Photo by Josiah Farrow on Unsplash.

Both alpacas and llamas have distinctive personalities. Llamas tend to be gentle creatures, but they are solitary animals. They would rather be alone but can live peacefully among other animals. 

You can find llamas in petting zoos because of their gentle nature. Llamas are also confident and brave animals, making them excellent guard animals. They guard sheep and other herd animals from predators like coyotes and wolves. Some farmers use llamas to protect an alpaca herd.  

They are outspoken and have a variety of sounds they use for communication. Mother alpacas have special humming sounds for communicating with baby alpacas. 

Alpacas are also gentle animals. They are shy herd animals. They prefer to stay with other alpacas. Alpacas spit as their last resort when threatened, but llamas quickly spit as soon as they feel threatened. 

8. Llamas and alpacas have different purposes.  

Alpacas are herd animals bred for their luxurious, soft hair, while llamas have more purposes. Llamas can work as guard animals. They alert the herd with a call whenever a predator approaches them. 

A guard llama will kick and spit at the predator to chase it off. It can take on a single predator, successfully protecting the pack animals. However, it can be difficult for a single llama to protect the herd against a pack of predators. 

Herders also use llamas to carry heavy loads because they are heavier than alpacas. An average llama can hold 75 pounds of luggage over 20 miles daily. Using llamas as pack animals can be stressful because llamas tend to be temperamental.

9. Alpaca vs llama: Llamas live longer than alpacas. 

llama
Llama, Photo by Raspopova Marina on Unsplash.

Llamas have a longer life span when compared to alpacas. An alpaca can live up to 15 -25 years, while a llama lives up to 30 years.

10. Alpaca vs Llama: Tail 

The tail is a communication tool in camels.  Alpacas have short and fluffy tails, while llamas have straight but shorter tails.

11. Alpacas have more rounded backs than llamas.

alpaca
Alpaca, Photo by ii7017 on Pixabay.

You can also tell the difference between a llama and an alpaca by the shape of their back. Alpacas have a round back, but there might be some difficulty recognizing the rounded shape because of their heavy coat. 

On the other hand, llamas have broader and flatter backs. We attribute it to its purpose as a pack animal for centuries. 

12. Llama vs Alpaca: Breeds

As established earlier, alpacas and llamas are two different species of camelids. There are two types of alpaca breeds, while llamas have no distinct breeds. The two alpaca breeds are: 

  • Suri alpaca
  • Huacaya alpaca

Suri alpaca is the smallest portion of the alpaca species. It represents 10% of the population. You can recognize them by their drooping, long, and fine fur. They originate from areas with warmer climates and lower topographical elevation. 

Huacaya alpacas make up the majority of the alpaca population. You'll recognize their dense fur, similar to a teddy bear. Their thick fur makes survival easy in the cold climate of the high mountains1.

Conclusion: Alpaca vs Llama

Llamas and alpacas are two animals native to the mountains of South America. The next time you spot a llama, remember that llamas grow bigger than alpacas. They are brave animals with distinct personalities. 

Moreover, llamas’ range includes protecting other animals and working as a pack animal. In contrast, alpacas are protected species because of their fur. Breeders strive to create fertile offspring for the production of luxurious fiber. 

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1

Kadwell, M., Fernández, M. L., Stanley, H. F., Baldi, R., Wheeler, J. C., Rosadio, R., & Bruford, M. W. (2001). Genetic Analysis Reveals the Wild Ancestors of the Llama and the Alpaca. Proceedings of The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 

2

Frank, E., Antonini, M., & Del Toro, Ó. a. J. (2008). South American camelids research - Volume 2.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Alpaca Photo by Dušan veverkolog on Unsplash and Llama Photo by ArtHouse Studio on Pexels
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