What's the Difference Between Llamas and Alpacas?

The two look remarkably similar but differ in size, wool, and range.

Herd of white alpacas huddled together
Herd of white alpacas.

Don Mason / Getty Images

If you're passing by a paddock filled with long-necked, wooly, cud-chewing camelids, it can be tough to know whether you're looking at llamas or alpacas. To the untrained eye, the two look remarkably similar—with their erect ears, perma-smiles, lanky extremities, and exquisite eyelashes. While they're both members of the same tribe, making up two of the four lamoid species, they differ in many ways—from range to size to the wool that now makes them commercially viable livestock.

Learn the differences between llamas and alpacas, as well as which you're more likely to encounter in your neck of the woods.

Key Differences

  • Size: Llamas are the largest lamoid, weighing about 300 pounds compared to the alpaca's 100 to 200 pounds.
  • Range: Both llamas and alpacas are native to the South American Andes Mountains, but llamas had a wider range that extended further down into Argentina and Chile. Now, all llama and alpaca herds are domesticated.
  • Wool: Alpaca wool is softer, finer, and more abundant than llama wool and therefore more valued by the clothing industry.
  • Ears: Llamas have long, banana-shaped ears while alpacas' are short and pointy.

Llama and Alpaca Classification

White alpaca resting in a field of long grass
A white alpaca resting.

Paul Souders / Getty Images

Llamas and alpacas are two of the four species in the genus Lama, under the family Camelidae, which they share with camels. Both llamas and alpacas are now domesticated species, whereas the other two lamoid species, vicuñas and guanacos, remain wild.

While fossil records show that llama-like animals once roamed the U.S.—from California to Florida—lamoids as we now know them are known to be native only to the Andes region of South America. The llama has a slightly larger range that extends further south, extending further down into Argentina and Chile.

Both llamas and alpacas have been domesticated for 4,000 to 6,000 years and are raised today for their wool, hides, tallow, meat, and manure (which is used for fuel and fertilizer). There are two breeds of alpaca—suri and huacaya—with 95% being huacaya. There is only one type of llama.

How to Tell the Difference Between Llamas and Alpacas

Two llamas standing with mountain range in background
Llamas standing before a mountain range.

Yann Guichaoua-Photos / Getty Images

It's quite easy to tell the difference between a llama and an alpaca in a side-by-side comparison. Firstly and most noticeably, llamas are much larger, weighing about 300 pounds compared to the alpaca's 100 to 200 pounds. They have long faces whereas alpacas' are shorter and blunter. Their ears are long and often described as banana-shaped whereas alpacas' are short and pointy. Llamas' backs are straight and alpacas' rounded.

If you were to ever get to know a llama or alpaca—although why would you?—you'd probably notice that llamas are bolder and alpacas timider. Alpacas are more apt to stick with the herd while llamas are more independent. Apart from their shared tendency to spit when irritated and displeased, both are extremely friendly and gentle.

Wool

Close-up of alpaca wool in various colors
Alpaca wool in various colors.

gustavo ramirez / Getty Images

One of the big differences between llamas and alpacas from a commercial perspective is the wool. Alpaca wool—aka alpaca "fiber" or "fleece"—might seem more familiar to you because alpaca wool is soft and fine (i.e., more comfortable) and llama wool coarser and therefore scratchier. Alpaca wool has been called the "poor man's cashmere" because of its softness. It's also hypoallergenic and naturally moisture-wicking.

Another reason alpacas are more commonly raised for wool is because they produce more of it despite being smaller than llamas. Their wool comes in thicker and more abundant.

Conservation Status

Alpacas with tassels on their ears in front of mountains
Herd of alpacas.

Boguslaw Chyla / 500px / Getty Images

Neither alpacas nor llamas have been assessed by the IUCN because there are only domesticated populations left. The International Lama Registry recorded 169,337 registered llamas and alpacas in the U.S. and Canada alone in 2022. The British Llama Society estimates there are "well over 5,000" llamas being raised in the U.K. and 7 million llamas and alpacas still living in their native South America.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Is an alpaca a llama?

    Alpacas and llamas are different species, but alpacas are commonly mistaken for llamas possibly because they belong to the similarly named Lama genus, which includes alpacas, llamas, vicuñas, and guanacos.

  • Are llamas more aggressive than alpacas?

    Llamas have a reputation for being braver, bolder, and yes, a little more aggressive than alpacas because of their guard-animal nature. Both llamas and alpacas spit when angry, but neither are known to be particularly hostile. In fact, they're often described as gentle.

  • What are the lifespans of alpacas and llamas?

    Both alpacas and llamas live for about 10 to 20 years, with the average lifespan being 15 years.

  • Can a llama and alpaca mate?

    Llamas and alpacas can, indeed, crossbreed, and the phenomenon is so common the resulting hybrid offspring have a different name: huarizo. Huarizo, however, are infertile.

View Article Sources
  1. "Alpaca". Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

  2. "Lama glama (Linnaeus, 1758)". Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

  3. Metcalf, Jessica L. et al. "Alpaca And Llama: Domestication". Encyclopedia Of Global Archaeology, 2014, pp. 145-147. Springer New York, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-0465-2_2212.

  4. "World-Wide Lama Census". International Lama Registry. 2022.

  5. "About Llamas". British Llama Society.

  6. "Lama pacos: Alpaca". Animal Diversity Web.

  7. "Lama glama: Llama". Animal Diversity Web.