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Guanaco de San Carlos.jpg
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Camelidae
Genus: Lama
L. guanicoe
Binomial name
Lama guanicoe
(Müller, 1776)
Lama guanicoe range map.png
Guanaco range

The guanaco (Lama guanicoe) is a camelid native to South America, closely related to the llama. Its name comes from the Quechua word huanaco [2] (modern spelling wanaku). Young guanacos are called chulengos. [3]



Skull of a guanaco Lama guanicoe 02 MWNH 820.jpg
Skull of a guanaco

The guanaco stands between 1.0 and 1.3 m (3 ft 3 in and 4 ft 3 in) at the shoulder, body length of 2.1 to 2.2 m (6 ft 11 in to 7 ft 3 in), [4] [5] [6] [7] and weighs 90 to 140 kg (200 to 310 lb). [8] Its colour varies very little (unlike the domestic llama), ranging from a light brown to dark cinnamon and shading to white underneath. Guanacos have grey faces and small, straight ears.

Guanaco is one of the largest terrestrial mammals native to today's South America. [6] Other terrestrial mammalian megafauna to weigh similar to or exceed guanaco include the tapirs, the marsh deer, the white-tailed deer, the spectacled bear, and the jaguar.

The guanaco has thick skin on its neck, a trait also found in its domestic counterpart, the llama and in its relatives, the wild vicuña and domesticated alpaca. This protects its neck from predator attacks. Bolivians use the neck-skin of these animals to make shoes, flattening and pounding the skin to be used for the soles. In Chile, hunting is allowed only in Tierra del Fuego, where the only population not classified as endangered in the country resides. Between 2007 and 2012, 13,200 guanacos were legally hunted in Tierra del Fuego. [9]

Hemoglobin levels

Guanacos are often found at high altitudes, up to 4,000 meters above sea level, except in Patagonia, where the southerly latitude means ice covers the vegetation at these altitudes. For guanacos to survive in the low oxygen levels found at these high altitudes, their blood is rich in red blood cells. A teaspoon of guanaco blood contains about 68 billion red blood cells – four times that of a human. [10]

Guanaco fiber

Guanaco fiber is particularly prized for its soft, warm feel and is found in luxury fabric. The guanaco's soft wool is valued second only to that of the vicuña. The pelts, particularly from the calves, are sometimes used as a substitute for red fox pelts, because the texture is difficult to differentiate. Like their domestic descendant, the llama, the guanaco is double-coated with coarse guard hairs and a soft undercoat, the hairs of which are about 16–18 µ in diameter and comparable to the best cashmere. [11]


Population and distribution

Herd of guanacos Lama Guanicoe.jpg
Herd of guanacos

Guanacos inhabit the steppes, scrublands and mountainous regions of South America. They are found in the altiplano of Peru, Bolivia and Chile, and in Patagonia, with a small population in Paraguay. [1] In Argentina they are more numerous in Patagonian regions, as well as in places such as Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. In these areas, they have more robust populations, since grazing competition from livestock is limited. Estimates, as of 2011, place their numbers at 400,000 to 600,000 [12] ;466,000–520,000 in Argentina, 150-200 in Bolivia, 66,000 in Chile, 100 in Paraguay, 3,500 in Peru. [5] A small introduced population exists on Staats Island in the Falkland Islands, with a population of around 400 as of 2003. [13]

Guanacos live in herds composed of females, their young, and a dominant male. Bachelor males form separate herds. While reproductive groups tend to remain small, often containing no more than 10 adults, bachelor herds may contain as many as 50 males. When they feel threatened, guanacos alert the herd to flee with a high-pitched, bleating call. The male usually runs behind the herd to defend them. They can run at 56 km (35 mi) per hour, often over steep and rocky terrain. [14] They are also excellent swimmers. A guanaco's typical lifespan is 20 to 25 years.[ citation needed ]

Atacama Desert

Some guanacos live in the Atacama Desert, where in some areas it has not rained for over 50 years. A mountainous coastline running parallel to the desert enables them to survive in what are called "fog oases" or lomas. Where the cool water touches the hotter land, the air above the desert is cooled, creating a fog and thus, water vapor. Winds carry the fog across the desert, where cacti catch the water droplets and lichens that cling to the cacti soak it in like a sponge. Guanacos then eat the cacti flowers and the lichens. [15]


Natural predators of the guanaco include pumas and foxes. [6] When threatened, they alert the rest of the herd with a high-pitched bleating sound, which sounds similar to a short, sharp laugh. Though typically mild-mannered, Guanacos often spit when threatened, and can do so up to a distance of six feet. [17] [18]

Mating season

Mating season occurs between November and February, [5] during which males often fight violently to establish dominance and breeding rights.[ clarification needed ] Eleven-and-a-half months later, a single chulengo is born. [19] Chulengos are able to walk immediately after birth. Male chulengos are chased off from the herd by the dominant male around one year of age.


A herd of guanacos at Chester Zoo Herd of guanacos.jpg
A herd of guanacos at Chester Zoo

Although the species is still considered wild, around 300 guanacos are in US zoos, and around 200 are registered in private herds. [20] Guanacos have long been thought to be the parent species of the domesticated llama, which was confirmed via molecular phylogenetic analysis in 2001, although the analysis also found that domestic llamas had experienced considerable cross-hybridization with alpacas, which are descended from the wild vicuña. [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

Llama Species of wooly domesticated mammal

The llama is a domesticated South American camelid, widely used as a meat and pack animal by Andean cultures since the Pre-Columbian era.

Patagonia Region of South America

Patagonia is a sparsely populated region at the southern end of South America, shared by Argentina and Chile. The region comprises the southern section of the Andes Mountains, lakes, fjords, and glaciers in the west and deserts, tablelands and steppes to the east. Patagonia is bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and many bodies of water that connect them like the Strait of Magellan, the Beagle Channel, and the Drake Passage to the south.

Camelidae A family of mammals belonging to even-toed ungulates

Camelids are members of the biological family Camelidae, the only currently living family in the suborder Tylopoda. The extant members of this group are: dromedary camels, Bactrian camels, wild Bactrian camels, llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos. Camelids are even-toed ungulates classified in the order Cetartiodactyla, along with pigs, whales, deer, cattle, antelope, and many others.

Culpeo species of mammal

The culpeo, sometimes known as the zorro culpeo, Andean zorro or Andean fox, is a South American fox species. It is the second-largest native canid on the continent, after the maned wolf. In appearance, it bears many similarities to the widely recognized red fox. It has grey and reddish fur, a white chin, reddish legs and a stripe on its back that may be barely visible.

Vicuña species of mammal

The vicuña or vicuna is one of the two wild South American camelids which live in the high alpine areas of the Andes, the other being the guanaco. They were named after the eponymous town, which in turn took its name from Joaquín Vicuña, a Chilean politician of Basque origin. Vicuñas are relatives of the llama, and are now believed to be the wild ancestor of domesticated alpacas, which are raised for their coats. Vicuñas produce small amounts of extremely fine wool, which is very expensive because the animal can only be shorn every three years and has to be caught from the wild. When knitted together, the product of the vicuña's wool is very soft and warm. The Inca valued vicuñas highly for their wool, and it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wear vicuña garments; today, the vicuña is the national animal of Peru and appears in the Peruvian coat of arms.

<i>Lama</i> (genus) genus of mammals

Lama is a genus containing two South American camelids, the wild guanaco and the domesticated llama. This genus is closely allied to the wild vicuña and domesticated alpaca of the genus Vicugna. Before the Spanish conquest of the Americas, llamas and alpacas were the only domesticated ungulates of the continent. They were kept not only for their value as beasts of burden, but also for their flesh, hides, and wool.

Guanaco is an animal similar to the llama.


Fuegians are one of the three tribes of indigenous inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America. In English, the term originally referred to the Yaghan people of Tierra del Fuego. In Spanish, the term fueguino can refer to any person from the archipelago.

Puna grassland

The Puna grassland ecoregion, of the montane grasslands and shrublands biome, is found in the central Andes Mountains of South America. It is considered one of the eight Natural Regions in Peru, but extends south, across Bolivia, as far as northern Argentina and Chile. The term puna encompasses diverse ecosystems of the high Central Andes above 3200–3400 m.

Cria Baby camelid such as a llama, alpaca, vicuña, or guanaco

A cria is a juvenile llama, alpaca, vicuña, or guanaco.

Central Andean dry puna

The Central Andean dry puna (NT1001) is an ecoregion in the Montane grasslands and shrublands biome, located in the Andean high plateau, in South America. It is a part of the Puna grassland.

Alpaca domesticated species of South American camelid

The alpaca is a species of South American camelid descended from the vicuña. It is similar to, and often confused with, the llama. However, alpacas are often noticeably smaller than llamas. The two animals are closely related and can successfully cross-breed. Alpacas and llamas are related to the guanaco. There are two breeds of alpaca: the Suri alpaca and the Huacaya alpaca.

Andy Tillman American rancher

Andrew Charles ("Andy") Tillman is one of the founders of the llama industry in the United States. He is an expert on llama and alpaca health, selective breeding, and marketing. Tillman is the co-founder of the International Llama Association, and he wrote the halter-class guidelines for the American Llama Show Association. His book, Speechless Brothers, was the first comprehensive study of llama husbandry published in the United States.

Atacama Desert desert in South America

The Atacama Desert is a desert plateau in South America covering a 1,000 km (600 mi) strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes Mountains. The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places in the world, as well as the only true desert to receive less precipitation than the polar deserts. According to estimates, the Atacama Desert occupies 105,000 km2 (41,000 sq mi), or 128,000 km2 (49,000 sq mi) if the barren lower slopes of the Andes are included. Most of the desert is composed of stony terrain, salt lakes (salares), sand, and felsic lava that flows towards the Andes.

Haush ethnic group

The Haush or Manek'enk were an indigenous people who lived on the Mitre Peninsula of the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. They were related culturally and linguistically to the Ona or Selk'nam people who also lived on the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, and to the Tehuelche people of southern mainland Patagonia.

Wildlife of Chile

The wildlife of Chile encompasses a diverse range of animals and plants, a condition is attributed to the country's slender and elongated shape, which spans a wide range of latitude, and also its altitude, ranging from the windswept coastline of the Pacific coast on the west to northern Andes to the sub-Antarctic, high Andes mountains in the east. There are many distinct ecosystems.

Lamini tribe of mammals

Lamini is a tribe of the subfamily Camelinae. It contains two extant genera with four species, all exclusively from South America: llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos. The former two are domesticated species, while the latter two are only found in the wild. None display sexual dimorphism. The four species can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Additionally, there are two extinct genera known from the fossil record.

Tierra del Fuego National Park national park of Argentina

Tierra del Fuego National Park is a national park on the Argentine part of the island of Tierra del Fuego, within Tierra del Fuego Province in the ecoregion of Patagonic Forest and Altos Andes, a part of the subantarctic forest. Established on 15 October 1960 under the Law 15.554 and expanded in 1966, it was the first shoreline national park to be established in Argentina.

Huacaya (alpaca)

Huacaya is the one of the two breeds that make up the species Vicugna pacos, commonly known as the alpaca. The other breed is the Suri. It lives on the Altiplano plateau in the Andes at up to 4,000 m above sea level. Its natural range encompasses four South American countries.

Patagonian grasslands Ecoregion in the south of Chile, Argentina and the Falkland Islands

The Patagonian grasslands (NT0804) is an ecoregion in the south of Chile, Argentina and the Falkland Islands. The grasslands are home to diverse fauna, including several rare or endemic species of birds. There are few protected areas. The grasslands are threatened by overgrazing by sheep, which supply high-quality merino wool. Efforts are being made to develop sustainable grazing practices to avoid desertification.


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