Are Camels And Llamas Related?

Despite one having humps, and the other not, camels and llamas are related. They are both cousins and members of the camel family (Camelidae). Even though they are of the same kin, camels and llamas are not the same species.

Camels and llamas belong to the order Artiodactyla and to the ruminant suborder Tylopoda. They are both members of the Animalia kingdom and belong to the class Mammalia.

are camels and llamas related

Artiodactyla, or the even-toed ungulates, are hoofed animals that bear weight equally on two (an even number) of their five toes: the third and fourth. Tylopods are the pad-footed, even-toed, hoofed mammals, just like the camels and llamas are. They are also mammals, warm-blooded vertebrate animals with fur, mammary glands which in females produce milk to feed the calves and give birth to a live young.

The family Camelidae originated in North America during the Eocene epoch, between 46 and 42 million years ago.

Camels we know today (genus Camelus) include 2 domesticated and one wild species:

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

These species are all members of the Camelini tribe. They live in the extreme desert conditions of Africa and Asia, tolerate temperatures going as high as 104 °F (40 °C) and as low as -40 °F (-40 °C), and survive water loss of about 25% of their body weight. For non-desert mammals, losses of greater than 15% can be lethal. [1

On the other hand, the genus Lama includes 2 domesticated and 2 wild species:

  • Domesticated llama (Lama glama)
  • Domesticated alpaca (Vicugna pacos)
  • Wild guanaco (Lama guanicoe)
  • Wild vicuna (Vicugna vicugna)

These camels’ closest relatives from the Lamini tribe have no hump, live in the high altitudes of South America, and do not have adaptations for the hot desert environments as camels do.

The members of the Camelini tribe are referred to as the Old World Camelids, while the members of the Lamini tribe are the New World Camelids.

Taxonomy of the camel family
Taxonomy of the family Camelidae

Camels and llamas had a common ancestor. Then around 16.3 million years ago, members of their tribes separated. 

The ancestors of camels went west and reached Eurasia by crossing the Bering land bridge around 6.5–7.5 million years ago. The progenitors of llamas entered South America during the Great American Biotic Interchange around 3 million years ago. [2

The camel was domesticated between 2000 and 1000 BC, in the Iron Age on the Arabian Peninsula, while llamas were likely domesticated between around 7000 years ago at multiple locations in the Puna of the central Andes in the South America. [3

Further reading: Are camels related to alpacas?

Did Llamas Evolve From Camels?

Despite both of them being members of the same family, llamas did not evolve from camels. The genomic evidence shows that llama was most likely domesticated from the guanaco.

In the early Pliocene, around 5 million years ago, the genus Hemiauchenia differentiated into two genera: Peleolama and Lama.

Then, about 3 million years ago, it migrated to South America, where the Paleolama genus became extinct, and the Lama one was divided into genera Lama and Vicugna. 

The wild guanaco and vicuña diverged from their common ancestor 2 to 3 million years ago, while the llama and alpaca got domesticated 6,000 to 7,000 years ago. [4] 

Maximum likelihood tree based on complete mitochondrial genomes of New and Old World camels

Fig. 1 Maximum likelihood tree based on complete mitochondrial genomes of New and Old World camels  | Source: ResearchGate.net

Can Camels And Llamas Breed?

Camels and llamas can breed. The result of that is a hybrid called cama.

The first cama was born in 1998 as a result of breeding a male dromedary camel and a female llama via artificial insemination. Camas are humpless and have the long fluffy coat of a llama.

We have a full article with photos about all of the llama’s closest relatives and their main characteristics. You can read it HERE.

Final Thoughts

This completes our article on the question “are camels and llamas related”.

Camels are llamas are related. They are both members of the Camelidae family, and about 16.3 million years ago, they diverged from one another. Camels and llamas belong to the order Artiodactyla and suborder Tylopoda.

Read an article on how camels are related to other animals by clicking HERE.


References

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

[2] 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.

[3] Metcalf J.L., Cooper A., Wheeler J.C. (2014) Alpaca and Llama: Domestication. In: Smith C. (eds) Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. Springer, New York, NY. 

[4] 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.

Photo Source:

The history of Old World camelids in the light of molecular genetics – Scientific Figure on ResearchGate. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Maximum-likelihood-tree-based-on-complete-mitochondrial-genomes-of-New-and-Old-World_fig1_299955319 [accessed 16 Dec, 2021]

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