Llamas vs. Alpacas – What’s the Difference?

Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr

If you have ever been to a petting zoo or a farm before, then you more than likely have seen llamas and alpacas before. At first glance, they may look similar to each other, and biologically, they are, as they are both part of the camelid family. Despite their biological similarities, they they have several key differences that set them apart. From their physical appearance to their behavioral differences, here are some ways alpacas and llamas differ from each other.


Big Grey Mare/Flickr

Llamas are typically larger than alpacas, with llamas weighing up to twice as much as alpacas. Llamas can reach up to 340 lbs by the time they reach adulthood, while adult alpacas usually range between 100 t0 200 lbs.


Gerben’s Photos/Flickr

Alpacas have a softer, finer coat than llamas, which is prized for its softness and warmth. Their coat can also vary in color, from white to lighter tones of yellow and brown. While llama coats are also known for being warm, it is coarser and they contain unique spotting that ranges in shades from white, brown, black, and red. 


Ian Preston/Flickr

The most noticeable difference between llamas and alpacas is their ears, particularly their ear shape. Llamas have long, banana-shaped ears, while alpacas have shorter, spear-shaped ears.

Face shape


Another difference between llamas and alpacas that you can see right away is their face shape. Alpacas tend to have a more rounded face shape that appears to look “smushed in,” while llamas have a more elongated face.


Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr

If anyone has ever told you not to make a llama angry, they would be right to do so. Llamas are extremely confident and assertive animals, and are known to spit whenever they are agitated or feel threatened. Alpacas, on the other hand, are more gentle and timid. They have even emerged as popular options for therapy animals due to their due to their calming presence and pleasant nature.


Intermountain Region US Forest Service/Flickr

Llamas are often used by people as pack animals because of their larger size and their strength. The average llama can carry a load of 99 to 132 lbs for up to a little over 18 mile each day. Alpacas, on the other hand, are primarily used for fleece production due to their fine, soft wool.



Although alpaca and llama wool – otherwise known as fiber – may look the same, their textures and usage are drastically different. Alpaca fiber is a lot finer than llama fiber, which makes it feel luxurious and soft to the touch. Llama fiber is thicker and coarser than alpaca. which is why it is predominantly used for making rugs, ropes, and other items. 



Although both llamas and alpacas have a longer gestation period, or pregnancy, than what humans typically have, an alpaca’s gestation period is slightly longer than a llama. The gestation period in alpacas lasts approximately 11.5 months, or around 335 days, while the gestation period in llamas lasts around 11 months.


Geraint Rowland Photography/Flickr

Another difference between llamas and alpacas can be found when you look at how they have been used throughout history. Llamas were domesticated by the Incas in what is now modern-day Peru and Chile to carry heavy loads and to protect livestock like sheep and goats. Alpacas were bred by people in this same region for their wool, which is shaved and then used as fleece material for scarves and sweaters



While llamas and alpacas are both considered to be herbivores, their dietary habits tend to vary. Both are able to thrive well on high quality hay and grazing on pasture grasses. However, llamas often consume a variety of plants, shrubs and rough forage in addition to hay and grasses, while alpacas primarily get their nutrition from hay and grass.

Social structure

Tobias Deml/Flickr

The striking personality differences between llamas and alpacas are best showcased in how they interact with fellow llamas or alpacas. Llamas are more vocal and assertive, which translates into being more territorial around other llamas. They are known to occasionally fight each other to show dominance. While alpacas are usually shy and reserved around humans, they tend to be incredibly social with other alpacas, and like to spend their time within family units in their herd.


Smithsonian’s National Zoo/Flickr

Both alpacas and llamas communicate through a variety of vocalizations, the most common of them being a soft hum. However, both animals also display unique sounds and body language to express their emotions. For example, llamas also use a series of ear, tail, and body postures to communicate, and they can create loud, piercing alarm calls when they are agitated or feel threatened, while alpacas like to make a clucking noise to indicate that they want to be your friend!

Geographical Range


Due to their extensive domestication, llamas can be found throughout South America, from the Andes mountains in Peru to the plateaus of Bolivia, and even parts of Argentina. They are also present in parts of North America and Europe because of international trade and breeding programs. Alpacas have a more limited distribution, as they are more commonly present in the central Andes mountains of Peru, western Bolivia, Ecuador and northern Chile.

Habitat Adaptability


While llamas and alpacas are both present in mountainous regions, llamas are more resilient and can thrive in a wider range of climates and altitudes, typically between 2,500 to 4,000 meters above sea level. Alpacas, on the other hand, refer more sheltered and less rugged terrain than llamas. Their finer fiber provides excellent insulation against the cold, which is a main reason why they are prevalent in cooler temperatures and higher altitudes.


Victor Sassen/Flickr

Although llamas and alpacas have similar average lifespans, alpacas tend to live longer than llamas. The average lifespan of alpacas can reach as high as 25 years, while a llama’s lifespan falls around 20 years.


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