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What is a Guanaco?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A guanaco is a South American mammal closely related to the llama. Both llamas and guanacos are camelids, meaning that they are in the camel family, and they share a number of traits with their camel relatives. Guanaco herds can be found roaming wild in several South American countries, and the animals are also domesticated and bred in farms for their wool, leather, and meat; guanaco farms can also be found overseas, raising guanacos for much the same purpose.

At a casual glance, a guanaco looks a good deal like a llama, standing a little over three feet (one meter) at the shoulder with a reddish-brown coat, soft upright ears, and a short tail. Females are mature at around one year of age, while males require another two to three years to fully mature, and the animals live in family groups which consist of a male, an assortment of females, and their offspring. Single males may roam on their own, or form up into packs with other single males, in which case they will typically be harried from the territory occupied by a family group.

The guanaco is an herbivore, feeding on grass, scrub, and trees, and the animals are capable of extremely high speeds which allow them to flee predators. Typically, the male is in charge of the group, and the animals communicate with bleats to exchange information about potential threats. The gestation period for a guanaco is 11 months, meaning that females spend much of their adult lives pregnant, because as soon as they deliver, they mate again.

The coat of the guanaco is extremely soft, and often compared to that of the vicuña, a very soft relative. Guanaco wool can be sheared and spun for weaving, knitting, and other textile crafts, and it provides a great deal of insulating warmth to the wearer. Especially in the mountains, the guanaco is also pursued for its meat, and the animals may be harvested for leather, as well; the animals have particularly thick skin on their necks which can be used for a variety of tasks.

Like camels, guanacos are capable of a formidable kick, and they are not afraid to defend themselves when necessary. The animals can also express displeasure by spitting or grunting; people who work with guanacos usually take the grunt as a warning signal to step back and give the animal some room before it gets testy.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By sunshined — On Dec 29, 2011

I have been to South America more than once on a missions trip. It is not uncommon to see herds of guanaco when you travel around some of these countries.

If something scares them, it is amazing how much ground they can cover in a short amount of time. One place we were at, I was able to get close enough to touch one of them.

I was surprised how thick and soft the coat was. After feeling that, I can understand why it is often spun and used for different garments and crafts.

Many of the tourist shops had items for sale that were made from guanaco hair.

By John57 — On Dec 28, 2011

I have never seen any guanaco - at least not in person anyway. If they are similar to llamas, I have a pretty good idea of what they look like and sound like.

We have some neighbors that have all kinds of animals, including some llamas. Once in awhile they get loose and head down our lane.

This causes some instant and loud commotion with my horses. They are very uncomfortable and irritated if they see these llamas running around.

Thankfully, the llamas are easy to case off without any problem, but all of the animal noises and grunts you hear in the meantime can be quite interesting.

By chivebasil — On Dec 28, 2011

I have a coat made of guanaco wool. I received it from a friend who went to South America on a vacation a few years ago.

I do not wear it that often because it has a very rustic look to it, but I am glad to have it. It is very soft and warm and it is woven into a native pattern. I would like to wear it more it just doesn't really fit in with my style.

By Ivan83 — On Dec 27, 2011

Last year my husband and I went to Argentina and we saw a guanaco. As a matter of fact we saw a whole pack of them.

We were on a bus tour in the rural and mountainous part of the country. At one point the bus was forced to stop because a whole herd of guanaco was milling around in the road. The driver got out and tried to shoo them away but they didn't give him much attention. They just kept milling around until it suited them to move. Kind of annoying but they are beautiful animals.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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