Are Llamas Related to Sheep?

Are Llamas Related to Sheep?(If Yes, How?)

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It is common to see llamas and sheep grazing together, especially in Texas, Arizona, Colorado, and other coastal states. You may have even heard small children refer to llamas as long-necked sheep or giraffe sheep. The two animals have some astounding similarities, which begs the question, are llamas related to sheep?

No, llamas aren’t related to sheep. Llamas belong to the Camelidae family alongside their cousins, the alpacas, camels, vicunas, and guanacos. On the other hand, sheep are members of the Bovidae family, which consists of cloven-hoofed animals that chew the cud. Sheep are related to goats, antelopes, giraffes, cattle, and buffalos.

This post takes an in-depth look into whether llamas are related to sheep.

Are Llamas Related to Sheep?

Are Llamas Related to Sheep? (Explained Further)

It is common to find sheep and llamas grazing together, where the latter keeps an eye out for predators. Despite their notable resemblance, llamas and sheep aren’t related.

Llamas are camelids native to South America. They are closely related to their domesticated cousins, the camel, and the alpaca.

Additionally, their wild close relatives are the guanaco and vicuna. Camelids’ distinctive characteristics include long slender necks, small heads, slender legs, and cleft upper lips.

On the other hand, sheep belong to the Bovidae family alongside cattle, goats, buffaloes, antelopes, giraffes, and bison. They originated from Central Asia many years ago and are now spread across the United States, predominantly in Texas and California.

Unbranched horns in both males and females, cloven-hoofed feet, four-chambered stomachs, and long limbs characterize the Bovidae family.

While the two animals may be unrelated, they share a common ancestry. Both belong to Order Artiodactyla, characterized by mammals with even toes and who support their weight on their toenails.

Can Llamas and Sheep Breed?

Scientifically, llamas and sheep cannot breed/mate. However, due to their longtime bonds with sheep, male llamas may attempt to mate female sheep.

However, most attempts only lead to injuries on the part of the sheep. If mating occurs and results in an offspring, it is usually sterile or a stillbirth. If you intend to rear llamas and sheep together, ensure the llama males are castrated.

What Are the Differences Between Llamas and Sheep?

There are various differences between llamas and sheep, from phylogeny (evolutionary relationships) to outward appearance. Let’s discuss each difference in detail below:

Llamas vs. Sheep: Phylogeny

Phylogeny is the relationship between animals based on hereditary traits such as DNA and morphology.

Llamas and sheep come from separate taxonomical families; the former is a camelid, while the latter is a ruminant (Bovidae).

Llamas descend from wild guanacos and are close relatives to alpacas, vicunas, and camels, while sheep are close to goats, antelopes, bison, giraffes, and cattle.

Llamas vs. Sheep: Body Size and Shape

Llamas are larger than sheep, a trait that makes them the perfect guardian to protect a herd of sheep from predators.

They are taller, with an average height of 3.8 ft (1.5 m) compared to sheep’s 3ft (0.9m). Llamas are also heavier, with an average weight of 308 pounds(140kg) against sheep’s 220 pounds(100kg).

Llamas vs. Sheep: Feeding and Digestion

Both llamas and sheep predominantly graze on grass, swallow the food, regurgitate it later and chew the cud. However, llamas have three stomach compartments for digestion, while sheep have four.

Llamas vs. Sheep:  Tail Length

Llamas have shorter, furry tails, ranging between 6-12 inches long(15-30cm). On the other hand, sheep’s tails can grow up to 16 inches (40cm). Additionally, sheep have various types of tails, including broad and long fat tails.

Some farmers dock their sheep tails for aesthetic and health purposes; you might see sheep with short or barely existent tails.

Llamas vs. Sheep: Outward Appearance

From a distance, you can note the varying outward traits between a llama and a sheep. For instance, a llama has a long, slender neck and a small head.

The ears are long and banana-shaped and stay in an upright position. As for the lips, the llama has an upper cleft lip that often exposes its teeth.

On the other hand, sheep have short necks with medium-sized head in relation to the rest of the body. The ears are leaf-shaped and short and stay in a floppy position. The sheep’s lips are not cleft.

Llamas vs. Sheep: Wool

Both llamas and sheep are reared for their wool to make woolen products like scarves, socks, and cardigans.

Llamas have lanolin-free and silky wool, while sheep have fluffy wool with a waxy coating. Another distinctive difference in llama vs. sheep wool is the diameter of the wool fiber.

LLamas’s wool has a diameter of 20 to 40 microns. On the other hand, sheep wool diameter ranges between 14 and 41, making it softer than llamas.’

Llamas produce less wool than sheep in a year. You can expect one sheep to produce up to 30 pounds(13kg) of wool annually, compared to a llama’s annual approximately 4.9 pounds (2.2kg)

Lastly, sheep wool is cheaper because of its quality and availability. On the other hand, llama wool is pricier because of its silky nature and scarcity.

Llamas As the Guardians of Sheep

In most cases, farmers raise llamas as guardians to protect sheep from wolves, foxes, coyotes, and other wild animals that prey on sheep. What makes them suitable for this role?

First, llamas are extremely social and will easily create bonds with other domestic animals. When a ewe gives birth, the little llama will easily bond with the lambing mothers and their offspring. It takes a week or so for a llama to create a bond with a new herd of sheep.

Secondly, llamas are intelligent animals with an excellent sense of hearing. Their upright ears will easily sense an approaching predator and try to chase it away. Llamas scare away predators by spitting and charging at them, biting, stomping, or kicking them.

Lastly, their physical appearance gives them an upper hand in noticing approaching enemies. Their long necks, sharp eyesight, and good ears help them spot an enemy from afar. When they see a predator, llamas direct the herding sheep to a safer place or make an alarming cry.

Final Thoughts

Llamas are not related to sheep because the former are camelids while the latter are ruminants. Although they have some notable similarities, they differ in phylogeny, shape and size, outward appearance, and wool properties.

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