Alpacas to Vicuñas and everything in between – what are the differences?

Alpacas to Vicuñas and everything in between – what are the differences?

The 4 different types of animals we will talk about today are all members of the Camelidae Family, of which the camel is also a member. The llama and the alpaca are the two most common members you will find in Peru…on every street corner. Both llamas and alpacas were domesticated, while vicuña‬s and guanacos have been left to roam wild.

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Widely used as a meat and pack animal by those living in the Andean countryside. Their wool is not as refined as the fleece on the alpaca and they have less hair on their head as well. Llamas are more independent than alpacas and tend to have less nervous energy than their alpaca cousins. Llamas can be more aggressive and so are used as guard animals for alpacas, sheep, and other small livestock. Their ears are long and shaped like a banana and their bodies are large, weighing up to 400 pounds.

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For more than 5,000 years alpacas have been bred for their fiber, called fleece, renowned for its quality and softness. They have also been bred for their meat, so throughout Peru you can find alpaca empanadas and the like. Alpacas are herd animals and are at home in a community of other animals. Their ears are short and their faces are more blunt, with their body size being smaller than that of a llama, weighing in at about 150 pounds.

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Vicuñas are the national animal of Peru and appears on the Peruvian coat of arms. They are the wild cousins of the llama and alpaca and live in the Andean highlands, while also being distributed throughout Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia, where the population is the highest. They produce an extremely fine wool that is very expensive as an animal can only be shorn once every three years. It is illegal for any person except for royalty to wear garments made from vicuña wool. The vicuña is smaller than the guanaco and their heads are shorter and the ears slightly longer. They weigh under 150 pounds.

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The guanaco is larger than their wild cousins above, weighing on average between 200 and 310 pounds! They are native to the altiplano regions of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. There many guanacos in Argentina, where they roam throughout the Patagonian region. Guanacos live in herds of multiple females, babies, and one dominant male. They are one of the largest mammal species in South America, along with the jaguar and the tapir. Be careful, they spit when threatened!

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