Llamas and alpacas resemble each other, and rightfully so because they belong to the same family. These domesticated animals can be found in zoos, farms, and wildlife refuges.
Llamas and alpacas can coexist with each other in herds and pens with some considerations in place.
Llamas and alpacas can breed with each other. A male alpaca breeding with a female llama is called a “huzario”, and conversely a “misti”. This domesticated crossbreed is not found in the wild and is a result of introducing a llama or alpaca to a herd for crossbreeding purposes.
Offspring tends to be sterile, but research is exploring if genetic intervention can alter that. Crossbred offspring offer desirable traits in both fleece and temperament.
This article offers a closer look at the characteristics of llama and alpaca parents and their offspring, as well as the resulting traits and health issues that can occur.
Characteristics of Llamas, Alpacas, And Crossbred Offspring
Domesticated llamas and alpacas belong to the Camelidae family, along with vicuña and guanaco, which are found in the wild. These four animals can breed with each other and have the potential to create fertile offspring.
However, fertile offspring are not commonly seen between llamas and alpacas. A “huarizo” is the result of a male (sire) alpaca and female (dam) llama. A “misti” is from a male llama and female alpaca.
Llamas originate from Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Alpacas originally come from the high plains in west-central South America at the borders of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru.
If these mammals are found in other areas than these, it is a result of exportation.
Llamas and alpacas have been used for meat, leather, and fleece production. Llamas, considerably bigger than alpacas, are also used for load-bearing transportation,
While a glance may cause one to think that these animals are the same, a closer look will reveal several differences.
Llamas and alpacas have notable differences in size, face shape, fleece, and disposition.
They are crossbred to obtain desirable dominant characteristics of the two.
This table shows the characteristics of each animal, as well as the resulting offspring:
|Llama: Lama glama
|Alpacas: Vicugna pacos
|Crossbred llama and alpaca Offspring: huzario or misti
|Stand up to 50 inches to the shoulder; weigh up to 440 pounds
|Stand up to 36 inches to shoulder; weigh 121 to 143 pounds
|Similar to alpaca size and weight (smaller than llamas)
|Elongated face; long banana-sized ears
|Small and blunt face; short spear-shaped ears
|Llama-shaped head, face, and ears
|4 types: Classic, Wooly, Medium, Suri
Classic: double-coated guard hair (protects skins and underlying layer) with ground (downy) hairs that make a fine, crimped underlying layer, rounded ear tips
Wooly: heaviest coat, single-layer fleece (no downy undercoat), twisted texture
Medium: crossbreed of classic and wooly, double-coated
Suri: draped single-coated fleece, twisting into cords as it grows
|2 types: Huacaya, Suri
Huacaya: crimped like sheep’s wool (over 90% of alpacas are this type); may include a gray-shading color variety
Suri: long and draped, twisted, silky locks; may have appaloosa markings (colored spots)
|Varying types depending upon resulting genetics, generally long fleece
Huarizo: male alpaca bred with female llama
Misti: male llama bred with female alpaca
|Coarse fleece: varies in orange and brown tones
|22 shades of shaggy soft fleece (shades of whites, pale yellows, browns, and blacks)
|Unique cross-blend of longer, low-density, wool-like fleece in a variety of colors
|Resistant to interactions with humans and overhandling (can become aggressive or stubborn) - kick, spit, lie down or hold stance to refuse to move
|Timid; prefers to remain with herd
Capable of spitting, but generally only does if mishandled or at other alpacas
Better at being handled by humans when sheared
|Gentle disposition (like alpacas)
|Primarily a pack animal capable of carrying weights from 99-132 pounds over 18 miles
Also a source of meat, fleece, leather, tallow (fat) for candle-making, fuel source (dried dung), and guard herds
|Primarily used for fleece (fiber) and meat
|Used primarily for fleece, but also for leather and meat
Use Of Fleece
Fleece is generally sheared once a year in the Spring. Lighter fleeces can be dyed well.
The fleece, or fiber, of a huarizo or misti, is commonly blended with other fibers, such as polyester. This offers a high-quality fiber for use in the garment industry to make fabric for garments such as knitwear, socks, coats, and more.
Crimped fleece is breathable, warm, and naturally elastic. Silky fleece is used for weaving.
Reproduction And Mating
Male (sire) llamas and alpacas produce a sound called an “orgle”. This guttural sound helps to induce an ovulation response in females. Males are mature for reproduction between 12 to 24 months old.
Females generally start breeding at 18 months or older. Females (dams) ovulate as a result of mating and male semen, and typically give birth to one offspring at a time.
Llama gestation is 11 months long, and alpacas are 11 to 12 months long. Females are ready to breed again about two weeks after giving birth.
The mothers nurse and naturally wean their young (crias) once they are about 6 months old and 60 pounds, but can vary depending upon the young one’s size and emotional maturity.
Domesticated and wild Camelids can have health issues before, during, and soon after birth.
A huarizos or misti is typically sterile and therefore cannot maintain herds on their own. There has been some study into genetic intervention to preserve their fertility for successful independent breeding.
Farmers that wish to raise huarizos or mistis have both llamas and alpacas on their farms for continued crossbreeding.
Regardless of the parents, cross- and purebred crias (babies), can have health issues before they wean from their mothers. These include issues such as diarrhea, cleft palate, umbilical hernias, infectious disease, mastitis in the mother, and difficult birth.
If a cria is born premature, they tend to need human intervention up to six days after birth. Crias may need assistance or intervention with walking and standing, nursing, supplemental feeding, infection, and brain damage.
Gender, Coexistence, And Guarding
Female alpacas and female llamas can coexist in the same pens.
However, males are typically separated until they are used for breeding purposes, when they are then supervised. This is because they can get aggressive with other males for dominance and females during breeding.
Intact males can also have issues with other livestock such as cows, pigs, horses, and donkeys.
However, llamas in particular are good guarding animals for alpacas, as well as sheep, goats, and poultry.
A llama will make a shrill alarm vocalization if a predator or danger is nearby, such as a coyote, fox, or bear. They may also run at and pursue the predator, kicking or striking it. Or, they may place themselves between the predator and the animals they are trying to protect.
Sterile offspring can result from the crossbreeding of domesticated llamas and alpacas. However, some research is being conducted to see if genetic modifications can change that.
If a male alpaca breeds with a female llama the cria (offspring) is called a huzario, and alternatively a “misti”. The resulting crias offer a smaller animal with longer fleece and a desirable temperament.