The Alpaca's Cousins
Alpacas are related to camels, and are one of four camelid species in the Americas along with the llama, vicuña, and guanaco. Of these, the llama and alpaca are domesticated, while the vicuña and guanaco are wild.
Vicuñas are the wild ancestor of alpacas. They produce the finest wool in the world, softer and stronger than cashmere, sheep's wool, or alpaca. They are relatively small and do not bite, but they cannot be tamed. Because of their wild nature, their wool is difficult to gather and comes at an incredibly high cost.
Llamas are the largest species of South American camelid and they have much more assertive personalities than Alpacas. Alpacas and llamas get along very well and will share a single herd. When together, Llamas will protect alpacas against predators, much like guard dogs. Whereas alpacas are primarily valued for their hair, llamas are mostly used as pack animals and for meat.
Guanacos are the wild ancestors of llamas, and are larger than vicuñas. Their wool is almost as fine as that of the vicuña and much finer than that of the llama. They are a versatile animal and can survive at very high altitudes and with little water. This allows their range to sprawl over deserts, high plains, and mountains from Ecuador to the southern tip of South America.
Unlike alpacas and vicuñas, llamas and guanacos are double-coated. This means that they have guard hairs which are heavy, coarse, and protective all over their bodies that cover a soft and warm undercoat.