Llamas and alpacas? What’s the difference?
- Ears: Alpacas have shorter, rounder ears. Llama ears are longer and are “banana shaped”. You can tell a lot about your llama or alpaca by the way they hold their ears. Tipped forward indicates something has caught their attention. Flopped back means your animal is relaxed (unlike a horse). A camelid with its chin tilted upwards and its ears held tight against the back of its neck is agitated. (If the agitator doesn’t clue in to this body language, the next action may very well be a spit!)
- Shape: Alpacas have a backbone that rounds as it reaches the rear end. A llama, on the other hand, has a very straight and level back. (No, an adult human can not ride either one. Alpacas are just too small. Llamas can carry up to 25% of their body weight in a pack (or saddle) specifically designed for the job.)
- Size: A typical weight for an alpaca is between 100-200 lbs (45-90 kg). They measure 45-85″ (1.2 – 2 metres) chest to rear. Llamas are generally about twice that size and are at least a foot taller. (Note there are always exceptions to the rule! Miniature llamas are bred for their small stature and have recognized standards according to the America Miniature Llama Association – see our links page for more info.)
- Face: Llamas tend to have a longer snout and less fibre on their faces.
- Personality: Alpacas tend to lean towards the skittish side and may require more patience to train or work with. They do not do well without herd mates – we recommend a minimum of 3 but the more, the better. Llamas are confident and much more independent and some individuals do just fine bonding with other species, (sheep, goats, alpacas, etc.). (Both of these members of the camelid family are highly intelligent, inquisitive, gentle animals. Which is smarter will depend on the farmer you are talking to!)
- Fibre: The fibre of both species can be beautiful and fine. Because alpacas have been bred specifically for their fibre, they tend to have a more abundant, lower micron (finer) fleece. Shearing them regularly is not only required, but is the only course of action a responsible farmer would consider for their well-being. Unlike what groups like PETA may try to tout, camelids are not harmed when they are sheared. Indeed, why would any farmer risk the health of their livestock, and thereby the source of their livelihood, by risking injury? Please read more in the “All about Fibre” section of this website.
- Purpose: Alpacas have been bred for thousands of years as crucial resource for the people of the Andes, for their luxurious fibre as well as for meat. Llamas were bred primarily as pack animals and are naturally great guardians. Both are low-maintenance livestock, make wonderful therapy animals, and are very easy to love!