Llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos are all represents of the South American camelids family.
They divide into two genera: Lama and Vicugna.
1. There are 2 species of the Lama genus: Llama Glama and Llama Guanicoe.
Llama Glama has 2 varieties: Llama Q'ara and Llama Ch'aku.
Llama Guanicoe has only 1 variety: Guanaco.
2. The Vicugna genus divedes into 2 species too: Vicugna Pacos and Vicugna Vicugna.
There are 2 varieties of the Vicugna Pacos species: Alpaca Huacayo and Alpaca Suri.
The Vicugna Vicugna species has only 1 variety: Vicuña.
Llama: heights usually of 170 to 180 cm, weight between 130 and 200 kg.
Alpaca: height between 99 - 117 cm, weigh between 48 to 84 kg.
Guanaco: height of 145 - 157 cm, weighs ranging from 80 to 140 kg.
Vicuña: height reaching between 140 - 160 cm, weights ranging from 35 to 65 kg.
It has a longer nose and much less fur on its face than alpaca. Llamas have a longer neck and head and ears in the shape of a banana. This also differs from the smaller alpaca. They are also less hairy. The size and bulk figure distinguish them from the sleeker and smaller vicuña and guanaco. Llamas can have a wide range of colours: brown, white, gray, and black, either solid or speckled.
Alpacas are more reminiscent of a small llama than slimmer guanacos and vicuñas. They have straight and pointed ears. Alpacas have cute faces with a lot of furs and rounded noses. Their hair grows densely on their legs and cheeks. There is a much bigger variety of natural colors of their fur than of llamas, 22 in total, which range from white to black with various shades of brown and grey.
Guanacos are more slender than alpacas and llamas. They have long legs, a long neck, and pointed ears. Their heads are longer than those of similar vicuñas. The coloration of their fur is not as varied as of alpacas and llamas. Guanaco´s body colours range from light brown to brownish-yellow or brownish-red while their backs, rumps, and bellies are white and heads, ears, and napes are of grey colour. Their coloration also differs slightly according to region.
Vicuñas are the smallest and most delicate of the four. They look similar to guanacos, but are more delicate and smaller and have shorter heads. Their ears are also pointed and share a similarly colored coat. It means light brown backs with white hair on the bellies, necks, and legs.
Llamas were domesticated 5,000 years ago from the wild guanaco. Their habitat has been the Andean highlands. They were vital to both the Incas and pre-Inca civilizations, such as Mochica (100 AD to 800 AD). They provided fiber, meat, and fertilizer (from their extremes). Since they have been able to carry up to one-third of their weight, they have been used as pack animals too.
Unlike their relatives, guanaco, alpaca, and vicuña are independent and more confident when endangered. For this reason, they are often used to guard other farm animals, such as alpacas. Also, llamas help keep the grass short and nice.
They were domesticated 6,000 years ago from the wild vicuña. For millennia, alpaca wool had been highly valued, but after the Spanish invasion, alpacas had long been bred only for meat. They have not been used as a pack animal due to their size.
Alpacas are intelligent, curious, and gentle animals. They are also shy but social herd animals living in a family group with one dominant male. They stick together when they are threatened by a predator. Like other camels, alpacas spit when they feel threatened. Alpacas make clicking sounds to show friendly or submissive behavior and often buzz when satisfied. Despite spitting, alpacas are very clean animals that use a common pile of manure to prevent contamination of their pastures. Since they are very popular with people, it is no wonder that they have started to be successfully raised as pets, as they seem to feel happy to depend on humans.
Guanaco was known in South America many thousands of years ago. According to some estimates, before the Spanish invasion in the 16th century, the number of animals reached 35 million, then fell sharply, so that at the beginning of the 21st century there were about 600,000 animals (about 80% in Argentina and the rest in Peru and Chile) so they are near extinction.
Guanacos also are herd animals, which live in groups involving one territorial male with his family, all-female groups with their young, or all-male groups. Adults can run at 64 kilometers per hour, while their babies can run soon after birth. They are widely distributed at altitudes at sea levels above 3,900 meters. They are prized for their luxury wool, whose quality is comparable to cashmere and almost as prized as vicuña wool. However, guanacos are sensitive to recreational hunting. Therefore, their wool is usually obtained only once a year by catching, cutting, and releasing back into the wild.
In South America, vicuña fiber was known and highly valued 10,000 years ago. It was called the "thread of the gods" for its extraordinary fineness and softness. Wild vicuñas in the central Andes were only allowed to hunt every four years during the Inca rule. After the invasion of the Spaniards, the number of animals fell below 5,000, and in the 20th century, vicuña hunting and the sale of wool were banned until the 1960s. By the end of the 20th century, the number of animals (in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile) had risen to about 200,000. However, they are still close to extinction.
Vicuña herds are usually typically family groups comprising a single male, several females, and their young. They range in altitude between 3,050 and 4,870 m.a.s.l. (altitude causing soroche - altitude sickness to most people). Vicuñas, like guanacos, are shy and watch out for intruders. They have excellent hearing, better eyesight than other camelids, and can run at a speed of 50 km per hour.
Vicuña is the national animal of Peru and appears on the coat of arms of the country (as seen on the Peruvian coin of Nuevo Sol). They are protected by law throughout the country, but poaching remains a problem.
Llama fiber is coarser than alpaca fiber and is less suitable for clothing, except for baby llama fibers, which can be very soft and similar to alpaca fiber. An adult llama has two layers, a fairly thick and rough top commonly used for rugs, carpets, ropes, and wall decorations. The top layer also serves to protect the smooth, wavy bottom layer that is used for thinner garments. Processing llama fabric is considered a difficult process due to the big difference between the lower soft layer and the upper thick layer, and the need to separate the soft from the thick fabric. Llama fibers are easy to dye, are very warm, do not contain lanolin, do not shrink after washing, as well as are lint-free. Llama products are three times more durable than sheep wool fabrics.
Alpacas have a fine and soft fiber, for which they have been bred for thousands of years. Alpaca wool is considered one of the finest worldwide. It is soft, luxurious, 30% warmer than that of sheep, and hypoallergenic. Alpaca wool products are very popular among travelers as well as locals and are one of the Peruvian most popular souvenirs. For instance, sweaters, gloves, socks, hats, and scarves.
They are prized for their luxury wool, whose quality is comparable to cashmere and almost as prized as vicuña wool. However, guanacos are sensitive to recreational hunting and poaching, which is why their fiber is relatively rare. So even in the 21st century, wool is usually obtained by catching semi-wild guanaco once a year, cutting it (0.5-1 kg of raw wool) and releasing it into the wild. Guanaco-shearing consists of about 50% fine fibers with an average length of 35 mm and 50% coarse hair and a length of up to 14 cm. The fibers are light, warm and their products do not irritate human skin. Color: from light brown (on the back of the animal) to white (under the abdomen).
Vicuña wool is the most expensive wool worldwide due to its luxurious quality and rarity. It is also very popular in the international market. The fibers are light brown to golden in color. Vicuñas are allowed to be cut only every three years! In Peru, the herding and cutting of vicuñas are controlled by the government, and breaches are sanctioned.
Llama: They spit, but only when they feel threatened or irritated.
Alpaca: When they feel threatened, alpacas sometimes spit, and aim their unpleasant shots at close people or other alpacas.
Guanaco: If threatened, guanaco can spit at a distance of 1.8 meters.
Vicuña: Like other camels, vicuñas can spit when they are in danger.