Among those of us not familiar with the two animals, a common question is what’s the difference between a llama and an alpaca? The easiest answer is in their size: llamas are much bigger than alpacas, and llamas are a lot friendlier than their smaller cousins. There’s much to explore beyond that. For a quick answer, take a look at our table below.
Comparison Table: Alpaca vs. Llama
|Ears||Short pricked ears||Long “banana-shaped” ears|
|Height||Up to 39" to withers||Up to 53" to withers|
|Weight||106-185 lb||290-440 lb|
|Body Shape||Sloping back||Straight back|
|Tail||Sloping||In line with the back|
|Face Shape||Compact nose, fuzzy face||Long nose, little facial hair|
|Fiber||Soft single coated fleece||Double coated fleece, coarse outer guard hair|
|Personality||Shy and timid||Independent and confident|
Let’s examine the difference between llamas and alpacas in a bit more detail, but first, let’s have a quick look at their history.
Definition of Alpaca
Alpacas are a camelid with a history stretching back to the Ancient Andean mythological age. They’re a short, less-friendly member of the camelid family. Historically, alpacas were identified with Pachmana, which alluded to the Earth’s mother. The natives of the Andes Mountains considered alpacas to be a blessing bestowed at the Ausangate Mountains in Peru.
Definition of Llama
Llamas, the larger, friendlier camelid, originated from the fields of North America. Their history goes back 40 million years, and since migrating 3 million years ago are found in South America. Andean tribes began domesticating llamas around five thousand years ago, and they are one of the most established domesticated animals around today. Llamas are incredibly strong and can carry twenty-five to thirty percent of their body weight up to eight miles.
We’ll go into the difference between llamas and alpacas shortly, but let’s consider the pros and cons of the two animals, should you be looking to purchase one or simply to meet one.
Alpaca Pros & Cons
- Alpacas possess a very delicate fiber, usually free from lanolin and other materials which can cause hypersensitivity.
- Ideal for training and guiding, even by children.
- If an alpaca is familiar with a person, they may allow them to stroke their back and neck.
- Incredible guardians of other herd animals.
- Simple training and maintenance.
- Costly to purchase.
- Require shelter from extreme temperatures.
- Require shearing annually by a trained shearer.
Llama Pros & Cons
- Llamas are social animals and will bond quite fast with new llamas.
- Llamas have a quiet demeanor and pose little threat to people.
- Llamas are good support animals for other herd animals.
- Quite forceful towards foxes, coyotes and canines, to protect themselves and their field-mates.
- Not all llamas are the friendliest bunch.
- Extreme warmth or humidity can cause llama health issues.
- Llamas cannot be used with herding dogs.
Llama vs. Alpaca: Similarities
Let’s examine the similarities between an alpaca vs llamas.
- They are both from the same camelid family.
- They both eat feed and grass and are both quite calm creatures.
- They both produce one child annually, known as a cria.
- They both communicate disappointment by spitting.
- They both possess a fleece free of lanolin.
Llama and Alpaca: Key Differences
Although in those respects they are quite similar animals, there are also many differences between them, and it is important not to confuse the two. Their differences are huge and set them apart as very different, if related, beasts.
Let’s look at the differences between a llama vs alpacas.
Personality, Character & Temperament: Are Llamas or Alpacas Nicer?
A quick and dirty way to differentiate the alpaca’s and llama’s differences in personality is to describe them like a dog and a cat. A llama is much closer to that of a dog. They are loyal and in good spirits, whereas an alpaca is closer to that of a cat: they can still be friendly, but are a little more aloof. Like a cat, an alpaca will need to bond with a human before allowing cuddles.
Alpacas will struggle to protect themselves, whereas llamas are much more capable. Llamas are often used as a kind of group monitor for alpaca farmers.
Size: Which is Bigger a Llama or an Alpaca?
An easy way to tell if you’re looking at a llama or an alpaca is in their size. Llamas are much bigger, which makes an alpaca a better friend for a child. A child will have more joy in guiding and training alpacas than llamas, and will likely be less intimidated by the smaller animal.
Fleece, Fiber, Wool
The fleece must also be considered when looking at a llama’s and an alpaca’s differences. A llama’s fleece is not used for the manufacture of clothing, whereas alpacas are farmed for their luxurious coat which is one of the finest on the planet.
Endurance and strength
If you’re trekking, llamas are big and loyal enough to assist with carrying equipment, whereas alpacas are a little too small and aloof to be utilized in this way.
In total, there are around seven million alpacas and llamas in South America today. In Canada and the United States, there are approximately seven thousand alpacas and sixty-five thousand llamas, and llamas are found in more diverse areas than alpacas. The agricultural history and livelihood of North America features the alpaca and the llama heavily. They’re friendly, useful animals heavily incorporated into the history of our agriculture and countryside.
- Photo by Dušan Smetana on Unsplash
- Photo by Junior Moran on Unsplash