Although an alpaca and a llama might seem like pretty similar animals for the average person, for those more familiar, it’s fairly easy to see the obvious distinctions.
Originating in South America, both llamas and alpacas can now be found throughout the world. They’re a part of the four “lamoid” (lamini) species in the camel family: alpaca, llama, vicuna and guanaco.
The first two are completely domesticated, whereas the latter two are mostly wild. All four species are able to interbreed and produce fertile, viable offspring.
How Alpacas and Llamas Look Different
Llama vs Alpaca: Size & Weight
The biggest difference between an alpaca and a llama is their size: alpacas are a lot smaller.
At the shoulder, the average alpaca measures around 35 inches (around 90cm), while an average llama would measure just over 48 inches (120cm).
The average alpaca weighs approximately 150 pounds (70 kilos), while llamas typically weigh between 300 and 400 pounds (140-180 kilos).
The Difference Between a Llama Head and an Alpaca Head
Like their entire bodies, llama and alpaca heads are also quite different: alpacas have short upright ears and short forward-facing noses, while llamas have long, banana-shaped ears and longer snouts. In general, alpacas have more fleece on their heads than llamas do.
How Alpacas and Llamas Display Different Behavior
Alpaca vs Llama: General Behavior
In general, alpacas are more shy and skittish than llamas.
Due to their cuteness, llamas are often mistaken as cuddly teddy bears; most alpacas, however, do not appreciate cuddles much (even the ones who are easy-going enough to let you snuggle up to them).
Herd Behavior in Alpacas and Llamas
Alpacas are extreme herd animals: an individual alpaca could die of complications associated with the stress from loneliness in the absence of a herd. Alpacas will often panic when one of the herd gets stuck on the other side of the fence.
While llamas are also very social animals and similarly live in herds, they are more individualistic.
Do Alpacas and Llamas Both Spit (and When and Why)?
Both alpacas and llamas have a reputation for spitting and kicking; they display that behavior most often when they feel threatened, or when forced to do something against their will. In most circumstances, however, they are gentle animals. You really don’t want to be on the receiving end of that spit though.
Purposes: The Difference between Alpacas and Llamas
Using Alpacas and Llamas as Guard Animals
Both alpacas and llamas are quite useful as guard animals. Alpacas will protect chickens from foxes and small dogs, but due to their smaller size, alpacas cannot defend against larger predators.
The larger llamas are often used to protect sheep as well as other livestock.
Llamas As Pack Animals
One big difference between alpacas and llamas is their ability to carry loads. For thousands of years, llamas have been bred as pack animals. They can carry loads of up to 100-130 pounds (45-60kg), even for longer distances.
Alpacas, on the other hand, are not fit to bear weight — they simply haven’t been bred for it and don’t have the right muscle structure to support heavy burdens.
Raising Alpacas for Their Fleece
For thousands of years, alpacas have also been bred as fleece animals. They have lovely, fine, soft fleece of a higher quality than sheep fleece.
Llamas are also occasionally bred for their wool, but this is not a widespread practice as they produce less fleece (with fewer colors) than alpacas.
Alpacas and Llamas as Meat Animals
In their native Peru (and some of its surrounding countries), both alpacas and llamas are commonly bred for their meat. In other countries, however, consumption of alpaca and llama meat is not common (yet?), in part due to the expensive cost of raising the non-native animals.