Guanaco Fact File
The guanaco is a relative of the camel and is the wild version of the domesticated llama. They have slender bodies with a long neck and legs. While related to camels their back is straight without a hump.
They have large brown eyes and long lashes. Their ears are long and pointed. They have prehensile lips which are used to grab and maneuver their food.
Across the body they are colored light or dark reddish brown. This is broken up by patches of white fur on the chest, belly and legs. On the face they are grey or black. Their coloration help to blend in, in their habitat. Those in the North of their range are typically lighter in color.
Guanacos are double coated with the upper layer keeping them warm and the undercoat being incredibly soft.
Their nostrils can close over to prevent moisture loss and to prevent the entry of dust.
On each foot they have two padded toes on which they walk. These help them to navigate on the rocky terrain which they inhabit.
Males are typically larger than females. There is also some regional variation in size.
At the end of the body is the short tail which measures 23-25cm (9-10in).
An average guanaco will measure 155-201cm (5.1-6.6ft) long and weighs 79-120kg (175-265lbs). At the should they stand 110-116cm (3.6-3.8ft) tall.
The guanaco is a herbivore. They feed on grasses, shrubs, lichens, fruit, flowers and fungi. Most of their diet is low-quality, tough food. Their specialized digestive system helps to handle this.
They obtain water by drinking at streams and ponds. Guanaco are very water efficient and this enables them to live in arid areas. Most of their water requirements come from their food.
Wild 15-20 years
Captive 28 years
Record 33.7 years
South America is the native home of the guanaco. Here they live throughout Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru. As much as 90% of the population is found in Argentina.
A population has been introduced to the Falkland Islands.
They make their home in grasslands, scrub, savanna and temperate forests with a preference for cold habitats including areas where the temperature may go below zero degrees Celsius for parts of the year.
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Breeding takes place during summer from December to January. The gestation period is 11.5 months leading to the young being born from November to December. The timing of the births will vary by region.
In a population typically ¾ of the females will have young each year.
A single infant, known as a chulengo is born. Twins can occur but are extremely rare and on almost all recorded occasions one of the twins has died.
Young are able to stand within 1 hour of their birth. They will follow their mother and by a few weeks old are starting to graze. By 8 months old they feed exclusively on the adult diet.
The chulengo is independent between 11 and 15 months old. Males will become aggressive towards juveniles in their group and chase them out of the group before the next breeding season.
The females may form a group with other yearling females or join an established groups. Males typically form small groups while they hone their fighting skills to be able to become the leader of their own group of females.
Young face many predators with only 30% of them surviving to adulthood.
Females are sexually mature at 2 years old with males maturing between 2 years old and 4 years old.
They are fast runners and may reach speeds of up to 64km/h (40mph). Guanacos can also swim.
Most guanacos will be found in a herd. A typical herd includes one male, a number of adult females and their current juveniles. Each herd may include up to 50 members.
Communication with other guanacos may be done by the position of the ears or tail and vocalizations such as trills, snorts and shrieks. They can also communicate through their feces.
Some populations are migratory to reach food.
Predators and Threats
Their main natural predator is the mountain lion with culpeos also eating them.
Living in groups helps them to defend against predators. Females will have their calves at similar times which provides protection against predators.
When threatened the guanaco will spit at its opponent. This contains their stomach contents and can travel up to 1.8m (6ft).
The number of guanacos has dropped from 50 million at their peak to around 600,000 at present.
The main threat presented by humans is habitat clearance, over-hunting and over-grazing of their habitat by introduced species. Severe droughts in their habitat will also lead to starvation for some guanacos.
Their undercoat is used for making clothes. In some areas they are farmed for this purpose.
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By Mirko Thiessen – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3727513
By Ltshears – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22748350
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