Camelids are a biological family of herbivorous even-toed ungulates characterized by their large bodies, slender necks and long legs. Found in remote locations from the Middle East, Northern Africa, Central Asia, and the Andes region in South America, camelids have evolved as separate distinct species adapted to their harsh individual contexts. The smaller South American camelids, which includes the Llama, Guanaco, Alpaca, and Vicuña, are characterized by their desirable thick wool coats and toes for gripping rock terrain. In the Afro-Asian contexts, camelids such as the Bactrian camel and the Dromedary camel have developed to survive their almost waterless habitats.
The Vicuña is one of the two wild South American camelids that live in the high alpine areas of the Andes, with the other species being the Guanaco. The Vicuña is highly prized for its fine coat, which can only be shone every three years. The fine fibers of their coat have been desired since Incan times, when garments made from Vicuña wool were reserved for royalty only. The Vicuña is the national animal of Peru and is protected by conservationists after a brief stint on the endangered animals list in 1974. Despite being previously considered distinct from the Alpaca and the Llama, recent DNA research has revealed potential wild Vicuña parentage in domesticated Alpaca.
Scientific Name: Vicugna vicugna
Vicuña side elevation (standing), side (person), front, eating, back
Llamas are domesticated herbivorous members of the camel family (camelids) characterized by their coats of thick wool and their upright posture. An iconic traditional South American animal, llamas have long been kept as useful beasts of burden that serve human needs for transportation of goods as well as for the production of wool and meat. Llamas live collectively with others in herds and are often used as guardians for other livestock because of their keen awareness and intelligence. Often confused with the alpaca, llamas are noticeably larger than alpacas and produce less wool.
Uses: Wool, pack (transport), meat (Peru), guards
Scientific Name: Lama glama
Llamas side elevation (standing), side (Napoleon Dynamite), front, side (laying down)
The Alpaca, a member of the camelid family from South America, is a domesticated relative of the Guanaco and the Vicuña who is bred for its luxurious, soft coat. The Alpaca is frequently confused with the llama, but while both domesticated South American camelids, they are two distinct species; the Alpaca being the smaller of the two, and the Llama being larger and used as a pack animal. There two types of Alpacas, the more common Huacayas, identifiable by their fluffy, teddy-bear like appearance, and the Suris, identifiable by their silky fleece that grows in locks. Alpaca fibers can come in as many as 52 natural colors from Peru, but only 12 and 16 are from Australia and the United States, respectively.
Scientific Name: Vicugna pacos
Alpaca side elevation (standing), side (person), front, walking, lying down
The Guanaco, like the Vicuña, is a wild camelid that lives in the high elevations of the Andes. The Guanaco is the wild parent to the Llama, a the result of domesticating the Guanaco for use as pack animal, and the Alpaca, who is the result of domesticating the Guanaco for its coat. The Guanaco is an extremely speedy runner, capable of reaching speeds upwards of 40 miles per hour, and a talented swimmer. The Guanaco is a herd animal and has developed different ways of communicating which include, ear movements, vocalizations, spitting, and marking territory with dung.
Scientific Name: Lama guanicoe
Guanaco side elevation (standing), side (person), front, back, walking
The Dromedary Camel, also known as the Arabian Camel, is a one-humped camelid that resides primarily in Northern Africa, with a small feral population in Australia. The Dromedary Camel has not occurred in the wild for about 2,000 years after being domesticated about 4,000 in Arabian Peninsula. The Dromedary Camel is the tallest of all the camel species with a hump that can store up to 80 pounds of fat that can be converted to water in time of need. Due to its ability to store plenty of water reserves, the Dromedary Camel can cover distances of 100 miles in the desert and go several weeks without access to water.
Uses: Pack animal
Scientific Name: Camelus dromedarius
Dromedary Cameld side elevation (standing), side (person), front, back, walking, lying down
The Bactrian Camel is a two-humped camelid residing in the Central and Eastern Asian Desert and is closely related, but wholly distinct from, the Wild Bactrian Camel, Camelus ferus. With its tolerance for both hot and cold temperatures, adaptation for high altitudes, and endurance for many miles, the Bactrian Camel enabled trade along the Silk Road from 130 B.C. to 1453 A.D. as a versatile pack animal. While mostly domesticated, a small feral population still exists in southwest Kazakhstan and India. Similar to the Dromedary Camel, the Bactrian Camel rarely sweats, can close its nostrils to sand, and has two rows of eyelashes to protect his eyes.
Uses: Pack animal
Scientific Name: Camelus bactrianus
Bactrian Camel side elevation (standing), side (person), front, walking, lying down