Guanaco Vs Vicuna

Guanacos and vicunas are the only two South American camelids that still exist in their wild form. They both originated from the same ancestor, the one they shared with camels. Yes, those camels.

Guanacos gave rise to llamas, while alpacas evolved from vicunas. 

But if you put a guanaco and a vicuna side by side, you might wonder, which is which? 

Being so closely related, the differences aren’t always easy to spot. Let’s take a closer look at the main differences and similarities between guanacos and vicunas. 

Visual Differences

guanaco vs vicuna close up

A Quick Overview

CharacteristicsGuanacoVicuna
Size3.7 ft (112 cm) 2.8 ft (85 cm)
Weight200 lb (90 kg)99.2 lb (45 kg)
Lifespan12-16 years15-20 years
DomesticationWildWild
DietHerbivoreHerbivore
EarsPointyPointy
ColorLight to dark reddish-brown above, whitish hair belowLight brown on the neck, back, and sides, white on inner thigh surfaces.
Fiber 14-15 microns12-14 microns
Table of differences and similarities between a guanaco and a vicuna

*per Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia (2003)

Let’s start with the similarities between the two. 

Similarities Between Guanaco And Vicuna

Both Are Wild Species

Guanacos and vicunas only live in the wild today.

Some 3 million years ago, their ancestors moved from North to South America and spread out in the Andean mountains. Some guanacos got domesticated and gave rise to llamas, while vicunas gave rise to alpacas. 

Neither of these two animals is particularly fond of humans; they prefer little to no contact with them. Guanacos are even known to starve themselves to death if people hold them in captivity. 

Both Have Similar Social Structure

Wild vicunas and guanacos can live in 3 types of groups: family groups (known as harems), bachelor male groups, or solitary groups. 

The family groups consist of a single male, his female harem of 3-5, and their young. 

The bachelor group involves several to up to 60 young males that were kicked out of the family group by the alpha when they grew up. Those bachelor males will often challenge the family leader to win the right to mate with his females. 

The third group includes solitary or very old males that were rejected from other groups.

Both Have The Same Ear Shape

guanaco vs vicuna ear shape

Another thing guanacos and vicunas share is their ear shape. Both of them have pointy ears, similar to those of alpacas. 

Only the llamas have banana-shaped ones.

There are more similarities between vicunas and guanacos, like the way they walk, their digestive system, leg and neck lengths, but these are the main ones. Let’s look into the main differences.

They Like To Spit

Something people connect with South American camelids the most is the spitting. We are sure you saw many youtube videos of them spitting humans.

Just like llamas and alpacas, guanacos and vicunas have a nasty habit of spitting. When these animals feel threatened they may spit their semi-regurgitated stomach contents as a defensive measure. Males will also spit at one another when fighting for power and asserting dominance.

Both Have Similar Wool Color

guanaco vs vicuna wool and size difference

The wild camelids of South America come in similar colors. Guanacos and vicunas are almost exclusively fawn-brown with white underparts.

Both of them have light brown wool on the neck, back, and sides. The lower parts of the body and inner surfaces of the legs are white.

Differences Between Guanacos And Vicunas

Size

Weighing around 200 lb (90 kg), guanacos are significantly heavier than vicunas. Vicunas are small and slender animals that only weigh around 99.2 lb (45 kg).

When it comes to height, guanacos are also a lot taller. Vicunas grow around 2.8 ft (85 cm); guanacos around 3.7 ft (112 cm).

Vicunas have smaller heads and more prominent eyes than guanacos.

Guanaco Vs Vicuna Wool Quality

vicuna with slim body and legs

Wool quality is measured in microns – 1/26,000 of an inch. The lower the diameter of the fiber (in microns), the better the wool.

Compared to guanacos, vicunas have superior wool quality. The wool of a vicuna has a diameter between 12 and 14 microns; guanaco wool is between 14 and 16. 

Vicuna wool helps insulate the animal against the cold and UV radiation experienced at high altitudes the animal lives at.

How much the vicuna wool is treasured says the fact that the clothes of the Inca emperors were made entirely of vicuna wool. 

The Incas had a long history of hunting vicunas, but they did so in a sustainable manner.

The Spanish conquistadors were less conservation-minded and engaged in wholesale slaughter, severely reducing the vicuna and guanaco populations.

Habitat And Food Preference

Guanacos are bigger and tougher than deer-like vicunas. They inhabit grasslands and shrublands from sea level to over 11,482 ft (3,500 m). Guanacos prefer to eat the longer grasses, lichens, fungi, and particularly halophyte plants.

Vicunas inhabit semiarid grasslands and plains at the highest altitudes ranging from 11,480 to 18,860 ft (3,500–5,750 m) in the Andes. They are grazers that mostly feed on softer perennial grasses.

Snout Size And Color

Just like the llamas, guanacos have a slightly longer snout than vicunas. There is also a difference in snout color; vicunas have snouts the same color as their wool, brown. 

Guanacos, on the other hand, have a gray color of their snout.

guanaco vs vicuna close up

Final Thoughts

This concludes our article on the differences and similarities between guanaco and vicuna. 

Vicunas and guanacos have a similar brown wool color, they are both species that live in the wild, and have long necks and legs. Their pointy ears resemble one another. The man difference is the wool quality (vicunas have more quality wool than guanacos), their size (guanacos are a lot bigger), and the plants they eat.

Further reading: Incredible animals with pointed ears

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