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Alpacas Grazing in Summer in Michigan

Alpacas vs. Llamas: 30+ Similarities and Differences Between the Two Animals

This articles was last updated on 08/23/2022.

Adel With Full Cria Coat

As we wrapped up last week’s attendance at the Northwestern Michigan Fair, I realized we answered the same questions time and time again. What surprised me is they were all focused around alpacas vs llamas. Very few people knew the difference between the two animals and many people could not tell one from another.

You may feel I’m exaggerating, but I am not. The 4H fair has tens of thousands of visitors each year with record years around 40,000 people. We talked to a lot of those folks and about 95% of them did not know the difference between an alpaca and a llama. Even after pointing out the differences between the two, people were still often confused.

And the internet doesn’t help this much. There is a lot of misinformation on the web about these animals. Today I found myself contacting the Britannica website to alert them of an error in their content. I can honestly say I would not have guessed that would have happened a year ago.

But when you fall in love with something as deeply as I’ve fallen for alpacas, it’s very easy to get obsessed and to dive into the details.

Basic Elements of Alpacas and Llamas

Everywhere I searched online, I found the same generic information about alpacas and llamas. It all focused on size, weight, ears, and faces. Llamas are bigger than alpacas in both height and weight. Llamas have longer faces and larger ears. Llamas were bred as pack animals and alpacas were bred for high quality, luxury fiber.

Yep, we know all of that, so let’s go a little bit farther with our information.

Llamas eat more and require more space than their cousin the alpaca. They also mature earlier and they live longer. Llamas are only sheered every other year, whereas an alpaca must be sheered every year.

Alpaca fiber is super fine and luxurious. It is hypoallergenic, water repellant, and it the warmest of wools. It also lends itself to producing high-end fiber products like socks, scarves, and hats. Llamas not so much.

Another key point is personality. Llamas are protectors and they are alert. They are pack animals and workers. Alpacas, on the other hand, are timid, more relaxed, and can be just plain goofy.

Overall I’d tell you there are more similarities than differences, but the differences are distinct.

Alpaca and Llamas by the Numbers

Three Llamas

Llamas arrived in the United States in 1920, but the alpaca didn’t arrive until it was imported in 1984. This makes the United States alpaca industry immature at best. So far I’ve found a large mixture of pets to show animals and a general sense of separation between the older generation of alpaca farmers and the younger generation arriving now.

Alpacas are growing in numbers, but the llama population in the United States is drastically going down. In 2019 there were 192,310 registered alpacas, but only 30,605 registered llamas. In 2002 the number of llamas was listed at 144,782, which shows a significant decrease in America’s love for this animal.

Alpacas tend to also be located in a few key states. Calfornia, Washington, and Ohio have the largest numbers of registered alpacas. Older information online will state Michigan has a very large population, but this is actually false. Michigan has just over 8,000 registered alpacas which is only about 30% of Ohio’s 26,000 alpacas. Michigan alpaca farmers are growing and I do expect this figure to increase year over year.

Alpaca vs Llama Comparison in Detail

Scientific NameVicugna PacosLama Glama
TypesSuri and HuacayaClassic, Medium, Suri, Vicuna, Wooly
Imported into the United States19841920
Registered Animals in the US192,31030,605
PurposeHigh Quality Fiber ProductionPack & Transport
Livestock Guard AnimalNoYes
DispositionTimid & KindProtective & Alart
Required Space2-8 Alpacas Per Acre3-5 Llamas Per Acre
Communal Dung PilesYesYes
Food Consumption1-2% of Body Weight Per Day2-3% of Body Weight Per Day
Life Expectancy15-20 Years15-25 Years
Oldest Known Age27 Years30 Years
Height at Shoulders35 Inches47 Inches
Weight100-200 Pounds250-450 Pounds
Face ShapesMore BluntLonger
EarsSmallLarger Banana Ears
Fiber is Renewable SourceYesYes
SheeringEvery YearEvery Two Years
Fiber QualityFine & SoftCourse
Typical Micron Count of Fiber14-40 Microns16-70 Microns
US Recognized Fiber Colors164
Female Age of Maturity18 Months12 Months
Male Age of Maturity2-3 Years3 Years
ReproductionInduced OvulatorsInduced Ovulators
Pregnancy TestingSpit TestSpit Test
Gestation Period350 Days350 Days
Birth Weight8-23 Pounds17-45 Pounds
Typical Pricing$500-$20,000$500-$20,000
Highest Known Sale Price$500,000$220,000

The Bottom Line

The 4H fair quickly taught me that alpaca farmers are pro alpaca and llama farmers are pro llama. I don’t think I encountered one person who was neutral and/or indifferent.

I’m a 100% alpaca person and I’d be hard-pressed to go over to the dark side of llama farming. While I did find Nash the llama intriguing last week, I’ll stick with my lady alpacas and their diverse set of personalities.

Alpaca vs Llama Infographic


The Complete Alpaca Book by Eric Hoffman

6 thoughts on “Alpacas vs. Llamas: 30+ Similarities and Differences Between the Two Animals”

  1. I’m in love with llamas and alpacas. I have almost everything in my room decorated in llamas

  2. I’ve always loved Llamas and considered getting a guard llama and a herd of sheep and then let my husband use the llama for hunting. I’m now considering getting alpaca and starting a small alpaca farm instead. What I’m interested in is whether I could get a llama to protect the alpaca or whether they would get along etc. what are your thoughts?

    1. Rebecca Gill

      Llama and alpaca are camelid cousins, so they get along nicely as long as you appropriately match up genders (female with females and male with males). We have a llama named Lucy who lives with our female alpacas and I absolutely adore her. She came unexpectedly from a rescue situation and she has been a very wonderful addition to the farm. She watches over our alpaca herd and while I know she would do her best to protect the ladies, she probably wouldn’t be a formidable match for coyotes, which is our biggest treat. Lucy was escaping her old him often and this is because she lived with a geriatric horse and donkey. When she arrived at our farm, she saw the alpacas, and she was instantly at ease because she knew she was with her “kind” and was in the right place.

      1. Daniel Isdell

        Ha! We have a Lama named Lucy too! We used to have two more lamas, they were also named Lucy. One was given away because he was mean and nasty, sadly another died. But they were all named Lucy even the boys. Why? Because we had a cow… named Lucy… and when we would call Lucy the cow to be fed the lamas all came running too. So we figured they must all be named Lucy.

  3. Mike Oxlong

    Amazing article! I found so many great words about Alpaca’s and Llama. I’m thinking of getting one and bringing it to my school as show and tell, is there a way i could rent an alpaca or llama for the day and call it he he. Thank you very much.

    1. Rebecca Gill

      Mike there are lots of farms that will do on-site visits. Expect to pay for the time at the school and travel with costs ranging from $200-$500.

      We used to offer alpacas for weddings, but we’ve stopped doing so. Our alpacas rate leaving the farm and I hate seeing them stressed. But that is our herd. There are many alpacas who truly love adventures and enjoy off-site activities.

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