Alpacas vs Llamas

What's the Difference between Alpacas and Llamas?

Many people have never heard of alpacas, and others think that they’re just small llamas. It’s true that both are camelids, but llamas (left, below) are much larger than alpacas and can be recognized by their banana-shaped ears (which look like a pair of parentheses), whereas the ears of alpacas are straight and spear-like. Llama muzzles are long, while the alpaca muzzles are short, and tails of llamas are set high, while alpacas’ tails are lower-set.

Traditionally, llamas have been used as pack animals, while Alpacas have been bred for their prized fiber. Llamas have a double-hair coat consisting of fine wool fiber intermingled with stiff, coarse guard hairs. The guard hairs can be left in when making rugs and ropes, but they must be removed before llama wool is suitable for spinning, weaving and knitting other products.
In contrast, alpacas have little if any guard hair in their blanket (the prime fleece sheared from the shoulder, mid-section and rump). The sheared fiber from one alpaca is usually enough to make four to six sweaters.
Even though llamas are much larger, they produce less fiber per animal than alpacas. The fleece of alpacas is so dense that the animals would be prone to heat-related health problems, especially in warm climates, if they were not sheared in the spring.
In South America, where they originated, both llamas and alpacas are used for meat, but U.S. consumers haven't shown much interest in alpaca cuisine. In fact, one reason many people get into raising alpacas is that it is not a “terminal” industry, which results in slaughter of the animal. In the U.S., most alpacas die of old age after a long (about 20 years) and happy life on the farm.
Llamas are also used to guard alpacas, sheep and other small livestock, especially against attacks by dogs and coyotes. Alpacas are not suitable as guardians for other livestock, because they do not have the temperament to attack (as prey, their defense is to run away from an attacker), and because of their size (roughly half the size of a llama). Adult alpacas weigh 110-175 pounds, while a full-grown llama may weigh from 200-400 pounds.

Updated October 18, 2019