Are Camels And Alpacas Related?

Despite a camel having a hump (or two) and alpaca not having one, camels and alpacas are, in fact, related. They are both camelids, members of the biological camel family (the Camelidae), and had a common ancestor some 16 million years ago.

Even though they are related, it is important to remember that camels and alpacas are not the same species. Camels and alpacas diverged about 16.3 (9.4–25.3) million years ago.

are camels and alpacas related

The camel family comprises 2 tribes:

  • the Camelini 
  • the Lamini

Camelini tribe includes one genus of camels called the Camelus, while the Lamini tribe includes two, Lama and Vicuna.

Camelus includes the 3 camel species we know today:

  • Domesticated one-hump dromedary camel (Camelus dromedarius)
  • Domesticated two-humped Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus)
  • Wild two-humped Bactrian camel (Camelus ferus)

Genera Lama and Vicuna include:

  • Domesticated llama (Lama glama)
  • Wild guanaco (Lama guanicoe)
  • Domesticated alpaca (Vicugna pacos)
  • Wild vicuna (Vicugna vicugna)
Taxonomy of the camel family
Taxonomy of the family Camelidae |Source

Camels and the alpacas both belong to the mammalian order of Artiodactyla, suborder Tylopoda.

Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates) are hoofed animals that bear weight equally on an even number (two) of their toes

Tylopods are terrestrial herbivorous even-toed ungulates, noted for their feet structure, the bone enclosing the middle ear, the neck vertebrae, the number and form of the teeth, and the absence of horns. 

The only living representative of the Tylopoda suborder is the Camelidae family (including camels and alpacas, of course).

Camels and alpacas are both mammals, warm-blooded vertebrate animals with thick fur, mammary glands to produce milk and feed the calves, and that give birth to a live young.

Camels and alpacas both originated in North America. They first started as extremely small animals living in the rainforests of the southwest about 45 million years ago. As time went by, some camelids went extinct, others grew bigger, developed unique characteristics, and migrated.

The ancestors of the Old World camels reached Eurasia via the Bering land bridge around 6.5–7.5 million years ago, while the progenitors of the New World camels entered South America around 3 million years ago. After that, the llama got domesticated from the guanaco and the alpaca from the vicuna. [1]  


Just as camels and alpacas are related, so are camels and llamas. We have an entire article on that bond and their hybrid. Read it here


Major Differences Between Camels and Alpacas

The camels today live in the extreme desert environments of Africa and Asia, and their adaptations to arid conditions allow them to tolerate temperatures exceeding 104 °F (40 °C) and going as low as -40 °F (-40 °C). They can easily tolerate water losses of over 25% of their body weight. Non-desert mammals would die with losses greater than 15%. 

In contrast, their closest relative, the alpaca, does not have a hump, lives in the high altitudes of South America, and does not have similar adaptations to hot desert environments.

Camels are a lot bigger than alpacas and weigh between 990 and 2,200 lbs (450–1,000 kg), while alpacas only weigh 101-198 lbs (46–90 kg).

Camels are almost twice the height of alpacas but have shorter fur. Alpaca’s fur is 7.9–15.7 inches thick (20–40 cm), while the camel’s fur is around 9.8 in (25 cm); sometimes can go up to 14.9 inches (37.5cm).

Camels are a lot stronger than alpacas and can carry an almost 13 times heavier load, 330–600 lbs (150–270 kg) vs 22–44 lbs (10–20 kg).

The dromedary camel, the Bactrian camel, llama, and alpaca are important for transportation, for load carrying, and are highly valued for their meat, milk, and wool. [2

The Bedouins used camels as pack animals during their desert expeditions, while the alpacas produce some of the world’s finest wool. [3

Can Camels And Alpacas Breed?

While camels and llamas can breed, camels and alpacas can not. There have been many attempts to mix and hybridize the Old World and the New World camels; only a few succeeded. None of those that were successful resulted from the interbreeding between camels and alpacas.

In most cases, the female (either a camel or a laminoid) gets inseminated with diluted semen, but only 1 or 2 out of 30 are successful. Most of them end up in miscarriage.[4

TL;DR – Are Camels And Alpacas Related?

Alpacas and camels are related and about 16 million years ago they had a common ancestor. They are both members of the Camelidae family and belong to the mammalian order of Artiodactyla, suborder Tylopoda.

We hope you found the article interesting and that we answered the question “are camels and alpacas related” properly.


References

[1] Burger, Pamela A., Elena Ciani, and Bernard Faye. “Old World camels in a modern world–a balancing act between conservation and genetic improvement.” Animal genetics 50.6 (2019): 598-612.

[2] Wu, Huiguang, et al. “Camelid genomes reveal evolution and adaptation to desert environments.” Nature communications 5.1 (2014): 1-10.

[3] Fan, Ruiwen, et al. “Genomic analysis of the domestication and post-Spanish conquest evolution of the llama and alpaca.” Genome Biology 21.1 (2020): 1-26

[4] Skidmore, J. A., et al. “Hybridizing old and new world camelids: Camelus dromedarius x Lama guanicoe.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences 266.1420 (1999): 649-656.

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