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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • October 2018
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Alpacas versus llamas

What is it about those cute furry little faces that is making all the young girls go crazy?

Just look around: manufacturers have even jumped on the bandwagon. There are llama pajamas along with alpaca bedsheets and comforters to make bedtime more fun. There are alpaca keychains, necklaces and earrings for accessories. There are water bottles and journals and dishes adorned with llamas. What is going on? The girls are practically starry-eyed over these four-legged wonders from South America.

Twelve years ago, it happened to me too when I first met and touched my first alpaca. I fell head over heels in love and just couldn’t stop saying, “They are so cute!” Those cute little faces have taken me on a journey that I certainly never saw coming. A journey that has been filled with lots of smiles and plenty of alpaca hugs. Alpacas have become a way of life for my husband and me. It is a lifestyle that we both truly enjoy every day. This summer we saw 10 new cria (baby alpacas) born. Everyone should hug a baby alpaca at least once in their lifetime. They are ridiculously soft and adorable beyond words!

I have found, however, that the young girls of today are a bit confused as to the differences between an alpaca and a llama, so I would like to explain the similarities and differences in this article.

Llamas and alpacas are both members of the camelid family. From largest to smallest, the camelid family is comprised of the following members: camel, llama, guanaco, alpaca and vicuna. Camels, the largest, will weigh between 660 and 2,200 pounds. They may have one hump or two, and may be domesticated or wild. Llamas weigh between 290 and 440 pounds while guanaco weigh around 200 pounds. Llamas are the domesticated form of the guanaco. Next in size order is the alpaca, which weighs between 106 and 185 pounds. The vicuna is the smallest, weighing between 77 and 143 pounds. Alpacas are the domestic form of the vicuna.

Today, camels are mostly found in Asia and the Middle East. Llama, guanaco, alpaca and vicuna are primarily considered a South American camelid. When studying the long history of camelids we can actually go back 45 million years and find that they first appeared in present-day North America. There have been many evolutions of camelids including some that were much larger and smaller than those of today. Camelids are all quite intelligent. This intelligence made domestication of camels, guanaco and vicuna possible.

The difference between camels, llamas and alpacas

As working animals camels provide transportation for people and cargo. As livestock they provide food (milk and meat) and textiles (fiber and felt from hair) and hides. Camels can have either one hump or two humps, and those humps do not contain water but do store fat for the camel.

Llamas have similarities and differences to the camels. As working animals, llamas are used for packing cargo. Some llamas may be used as guard animals to protect other animals such as sheep, goats, alpacas, etc. As livestock, llamas also provide meat, hides and fiber for their owners.

Alpacas are the gentlest of the camel family. They are simply too small to be used as work animals and do not have the aggressive behavior of the llama. Therefore, alpacas are simply a livestock animal that can be used for their fleece, hides and meat.

Alpacas and llamas have both returned to North America in the past 40 years via importation from South America. If you are still confused when you see one as to whether it is an alpaca or a llama, make the following observations and your question will be answered:

  • If the animal you are looking at is over 6 feet tall and has ears in the shape of bananas, it is a llama.
  • If the animal is shorter than 6 feet tall and has ears that are shaped like little triangles, it is an alpaca.

Today’s llamas and alpacas are both cute but alpacas are definitely the cutest. You are all welcome to come to your own conclusion about the cuteness factor!

Sally and Tom Schmidt

Sally and her husband, Tom Schmidt, began Sabamba Alpaca Ranch and Bed & Breakfast in 2006 in De Pere. They have 35 award-winning alpacas and an alpaca clothing boutique at their ranch. For alpaca sales, products or bed and breakfast stays, visit or contact Sally Schmidt at 920-371-0003.

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