All Of Llama’s Cousins (With Pictures!)

Llamas are related to alpacas, vicunas, guanacos. All of these four species are South American camelids. Llamas and alpacas are domesticated; vicunas and guanacos are wild. 

Besides these three camelids, llama’s cousins include camels (Camelus) that live in Asia, Africa, and Australia.    

Llamas, alpacas, guanacos, vicunas, dromedary, and Bactrian camels are all related and belong to the same Camelidae family.

Camelids originated in North America, around 45 million years ago, during the Eocene period. At first, they were small, but as the climate changed, so did they. They grew larger, and developed traits they are famous for today. Llamas developed thick wool, long necks, slender snouts, cleft upper lips, while camels also developed humps. 

Some 6.5 million years ago, camelids migrated into Asia and Africa via the landmass that connected North America and Europe at the time (the Bering Strait).

Other populations crossed the Panama Isthmus and spread into South America. There, they evolved into the Lamini tribe that gave rise to the species known today as vicuña, guanaco, llama, and alpaca.

Recently, scientists discovered that vicuña is the wild ancestor of alpaca and that llamas originated from the guanaco.

South American camelids started getting domesticated approximately 7,000 to 6,000 years ago.

llama cousins

Characteristics Of Llama’s Cousins

All of these four related South American species have long and thin necks, small heads, long noses, and flexible split lips. They all have tails, long skulls, and do not have horns or antlers.

They run with a swinging stride, as the same-sided legs move forward at the same time. Each foot has only two digits (the third and fourth) and the feet are slender in South American camelids.

All species are diurnal, adapted to living in harsh climates, and will spit, kick, or bite when threatened.

Here are all of the llama’s closest cousins, their main characteristics, and their photos.

Vicuna

llamas cousin vicuna
Vicuna

Main characteristics

Name: Vicuna (Vicugna vicugna)

Other common names: Vigogne (French); Vikunja (German); Vicuña (Spanish)

Height: 3 ft (90 cm) at shoulder

Weight: 99.2 lbs (45 kg)

Lifespan: 15-20 years

Distribution: Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina


Vicuna are wild ancestors of alpacas. They mostly live in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, at the semiarid grasslands of the Andes at 11,480–18,860 ft (3,500–5,750 m). They have one of the finest wool in the world.

Vicunas are small animals, have an average height of 3 ft (90 cm) at the shoulder, and weigh 99.2 lbs (45 kg). They are grazers and have a diet consisting of perennial grasses.

The alpaca’s wild relative, the vicuna, has had a very traumatic past. Around the 1960s they were critically endangered and on the verge of extinction.

There were less than 6,000 vicunas in the wild in 1974. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned any form of trade in its fleece.

Because of conservation measures, their numbers have increased. Around 2015, scientists estimated that there were around 340,000 vicunas in the Andean highlands.

Today, only cloth woven from the sheared wool of a live vicuña may be traded. Because of that, vicuña fiber is among the most expensive in the international markets. It measures between 12 and 14 microns and helps insulate the animal against the cold and UV radiation experienced at the high altitudes it lives at.

Read More: Vicuna Vs Guanaco – main differences

Guanaco

llamas cousin guanaco
Guanaco

Main characteristics

Name: Guanaco (Lama guanicoe)

Other common names: Guanaco (French); Guanako (German); Guanaco (Spanish)

Height: 3.7 ft (112 cm)

Weight: 330.6 lb (150 kg)

Lifespan: 12-16 years

Distribution: Argentina, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay


Guanaco are wild ancestors of llamas. They are slightly larger than vicunas, have an average height of 3.7 ft (112 cm), and weigh around 330.6 lbs (150 kg). 

Guanacos are mostly found in Argentina, the high Andes of Peru, some parts of Chile; there is a small population living in the Chaco region of Bolivia and Paraguay.

They mostly feed on grasses, shrubs, epiphyte plants, lichens, fungi, and particularly halophyte plants. They mostly live in grasslands and shrublands ranging from sea level to over 11,482 ft (3,500 m).

They also have fine wool that is from 14 to 15 microns thick.

Guanacos have a life expectancy of around 12 to 16 years. The main reason guanacos die is starvation. In the Tierra del Fuego region, around 80% of guanaco deaths are from famine.

Today, there are over 600,000 guanacos in existence. 

Read More: Llama Vs Guanaco – main differences

Alpaca

llamas cousins alpacas
Alpacas

Main characteristics

Name: Alpaca (Lama pacos)

Other common names: Alpaga (French); Alpaka (German); Alpaca (Spanish)

Height: 3 ft (90 cm)

Weight: 154.3 lbs (70 kg)

Lifespan: 15-20 years

Distribution: Peru, Chile, Bolivia


Alpaca (Lama pacos) has a small head, short ears with thin points, and a very long neck. Llamas have a lot larger ears that are shaped like a banana. Alpaca’s body is covered in long, thick, and soft wool.

They live in the Andes of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile at heights ranging 9,840–15,750 ft (3,000–4,800 m). There are around 3-4 million alpacas today; most of them located in Peru.

They feed on tender grasses and have a similar digestive system to llamas

Alpacas were very important in South America, especially during the Inka Empire. People there benefited from the alpaca’s fine wool, hide, meat, and dung, which can be used as fuel. Most of the Andean people today prefer alpaca meat to that of the llama. 

Alpaca fiber measures from 20 to 35 microns, and it is said to be 7 times warmer than the wool of a sheep.

Read more: Llama wool vs sheep wool

Llamas And Their South American Cousins Can Interbreed

Because of their close biological connection, all South American camelids can interbreed to produce fertile first-generation offspring.

If a male llama and female alpaca breed, their offspring are called the huarizo. If a female llama and male alpaca breed, the offspring are called the misti

The paco-vicuña is the offspring of a male vicuña and a female alpaca while the llama-vicuña comes from a male vicuna and a female llama.

A male guanaco and female llama will produce the llamo-guanaco or llanaco; the paco-guanaco is a result of breeding between a male alpaca with a female guanaco.

Llama’s Old-world cousin, the camel, can also breed with a llama, only with human intervention though. The result is a hybrid called cama

Read more: How similar are alpacas and vicunas

Final Thoughts – Llama’s Cousins

This concludes our article going over all of the llama’s cousins. 

Llamas are closely related to alpacas, vicunas, and guanacos. Together with camels, they all belong to the Camelidae family. Llamas and alpaca are domesticated, while guanacos and vicunas are wild species. 

Because of their close biological connections, they are all similar to one another, and all of these species can interbreed and give live offspring.

Fancy a laugh? Here are 20+ funniest llama memes for you. Prepare for a llamageddon!


References

[1] Schlager, Neil, and James B. Murphy. Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. Gale, 2003.

[2] Cowie, Helen. Llama. Reaktion Books, 2017.

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