I was incredibly lucky to have grown up next to a wonderful neighbor who had llamas for decades. And after college, I even got to care for a couple of them! Having llamas is a bit unusual but not terribly uncommon in the northwest, as they are not native to the area. There are a few organizations around the northwest that actually do therapy work with llamas and alpacas!
While it may be hard to tell the difference between an alpaca and a llama to some, there are some telling differences between the two. Alpacas are smaller in size, generally weighing around 150 pounds and standing 34-36 inches at the shoulder, and have short spear-shaped ears. Llamas, on the other hand, are larger and generally weigh 250-400 pounds and stand 42-46 inches at the shoulder. Llamas also have longer banana-shaped ears and long faces. Alpacas have more blunt faces that give them a more ‘smooshed in’ look and generally have more hair on their face.
Both llamas and alpacas are domesticated animals that originated in South America and have been living around humans in some way for more than 5,000 years. However, there are some differences between the purpose of these animals. Alpacas are generally bred and used for their fiber, as they tend to produce a much finer fiber than llamas. While llamas do produce some great fiber, they’re also used as pack animals, meat, and guard animals.
Their personalities play a big role in how they’ve been domesticated and act. Both are herd animals but alpacas are more skittish and prefer their herds more. Llamas, on the other hand, are more independent and will often hold their ground. If, for example, they feel like their packs have too much weight, llamas might refuse to move until some of the weight is removed! Similarly, their fiercely independent and protective attitude makes many llamas great guard animals. For the last couple of decades, some farmers, especially those with sheep, have used llamas as guard animals and protectors.
These animals do have their differences but they’re both generally sweet animals. When provoked, they do spit but there are ways to avoid being spit on (you can avoid some kinds of behaviors that might annoy them and learn the signs of when they might be about to spit). In addition to being used for their fiber and as guard or pack animals, there are a few organizations and people that use them as therapy animals. Rojo the llama is one of the more famous llamas in the northwest and along with some of his llama and alpaca friends, he’s been bringing joy and love to the Portland area for years! Rojo and friends have even made many appearances at weddings too.
While they might look very similar, there are quite a few differences between llamas and alpacas once you know what to look for! These animals have lived and worked alongside people for thousands of years now. Alpacas have this amazing fiber that’s used in a variety of products after they’re shaved each spring. Llamas have great fiber too but they’re also used as guard and pack animals too! And both alpacas and llamas have been used as therapy animals, providing love and warmth to many people around the world.