Surely, somewhere along the line, you’ve done the getting-to-know-you exercise in which each participant answers the question, “If you were an XXX, what would you be? And why?”
XXX can be anything—from trees to historical figures and beyond. In this variation, the question is “Would your character be an alpaca or a llama?” Although they share many similarities, they are quite distinctive in several ways.
The size difference between llamas and alpacas is obvious even from a distance. Llamas are big: as much as 4 feet tall at the shoulder, and tipping the scales up to 400 pounds. Alpacas are around 3 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh up to 150 pounds.
So, is your character tall for his/her gender? Muscular? Overweight? Or more petite?
Think clothing, hair, and skin. Both llamas and alpacas grow thick coats of hair, that can vary in color from white or pale yellow to various shades of brown and black, to piebald, but. . .
Alpacas are more likely to have one consistent hair color.
Would your character be more likely to wear flashy clothes (llama) or conservative clothes (alpaca)?
Both llamas and alpacas are herd animals, i.e., sociable. But overall, alpacas are more laid-back than llamas. A llama can move up or down the social ladder by picking fights—usually among males, to establish dominance. These involve spitting, ramming each other with their chests, neck wrestling, and kicking to knock the other off balance.
Females usually spit as a means of controlling other herd members. When overloaded or maltreated by humans, llamas spit, kick, lie down, or refuse to move. Llamas take care of each other by issuing a loud, shrill sound that rhythmically rises and falls to alert others to a threat. They also hum to each other.
Alpacas are typically shy and polite. Although they can play herd politics with the best of them, they seldom do so. They live in family herds, which typically consist of an alpha male, several females, and their young.
Is your character tough, competitive, ready to throw down, like a llama? Or a peacemaker?
A llama’s degree of upset is revealed in what they spit: the more irritated, the more digested the food that is spit. If they groan or go “mwa” it is a sign of fear or anger. When unhappy or agitated they lay their ears back. Ears perked upwards is a sign of happiness.
Alpacas spit when they are distressed or fearful. Their warning of danger is a sharp, noisy inhalation that sounds like a high-pitched bray. When a male is defending his territory, his ears are laid back and they turn sideways. Alpacas are amenable to petting as long as it’s not around the head or neck.
Communication is both verbal and non-verbal. Sometimes the meaning is unclear, just like people. For example, alpaca mothers and babies hum constantly, but all alpacas also hum as a sign of distress, curiosity, happiness, worry or caution! They also snort, grumble, cluck, scream, and screech. From what I’ve read, it appears alpacas are more vocal than llamas.
What emotional “tells” does your character display? To everyone, or only close friends and family?
Alpacas look smoother than llamas. Alpaca hair is silkier, each strand being half or less the diameter of llama hair. While it might not perfectly reflect refinement, llamas are used for food and as beasts of burden. Alpacas are herded for their hair, to make expensive textiles, and seldom kept as food animals.
Is your character smooth and sophisticated or a little rough around the edges?
Llamas can be trained to a lead quickly when young. Alpacas are also very trainable using food as a reward. Llamas can carry heavy loads over long distances and are more likely to be pack animals. Both can be guard animals for other species, such as sheep. Here again, it’s more likely that the guard will be a llama.
Sometimes, llamas even guard herds of alpacas! When guarding other species, males are most likely to hold their posts alone. If more than one male llama is put on guard duty, they might fraternize with each other and neglect their charges (just like humans!).
Nanobodies (part of the antibody) of llamas and alpacas are particularly useful to molecular biology research. Alpaca and llama nanobodies have a very strong ability to destroy viruses like HIV and influenza. Currently, researchers are looking into the possibility of a vaccine for COVID-19.
Does your character care for—take responsibility for—others? When, how, and why?
As with humans, much depends on the eye of the beholder.
Llamas have pointy, protruding faces and long, banana-shaped ears. Alpacas have smaller ears, shaped like elf ears, and a pug-like face.
Does your character share any physical characteristics with llamas or alpacas? Does s/he meet the cultural standards of beauty? And is it important?
Prior to the last ice age, llamas inhabited large parts of North and Central America. Now llamas and alpacas live primarily in parts of Peru, Equador, Bolivia, and Chile. As of the 20th Century, both alpacas and llamas have been reintroduced into the U.S.
Is your character a rolling stone or a homebody?
One interesting tidbit about alpacas: They use a communal dung pile where they do not graze.
One interesting tidbit about llamas: In Aymara mythology, the Heavenly Llama is said to drink water from the ocean and urinates as it rains. According to Aymara eschatology, at the end of time, llamas will return to the springs and lagoons they came from.
What is one interesting or unexpected tidbit about your character?
Bottom line: better know your character by looking at her/him slant!