The guanaco (Lama guanicoe) is a mammal native to South America.
The guanaco is closely related to the alpaca, llama, and vicuña, which are known collectively as lamoids.
Guanacos are the mostly widely distributed of the four species of lamoids and they occupy the most diverse range of habitats.
For the most part, guanacos reside in very elevated areas. They are prevalent in both semi-arid and dry environments. Guanacos often live in grasslands, montane areas, shrublands, savannas and steppes. Occasionally, they even reside in temperate forest settings, particularly during the cold winter months.
A guanaco’s typical lifespan is 20 to 25 years. In captivity, the longest known lifespan is 33.7 years.
This South American animal is related to camels and, like camels, they were were domesticated.
The result is the llama of today, which is the domesticated version of the guanaco — llamas don’t exist in the wild. Another branch of the family tree is the alpaca, which is also a type of domesticated guanaco raised for its soft wool.
These wild, camel-like creatures are notable for their elegant and dainty physical exterior, with narrow legs and necks. Guanacos closely resemble llamas, but are not as large.
Adults are 90 to 130 cm (35 to 51 in) high at the shoulders, and adult body mass is between 90 and 140 kg (200 and 285 lb). Male guanacos are larger than the females.
All guanacos have pelage that is light to dark reddish brown, with white countershading on the chest, belly, and legs, and gray or black coloration of the head.
Though the general appearance is similar in all populations, overall coloration can vary somewhat by region, with northern populations tending to be relatively light.
Guanacos have large eyes with thick lashes to protect them from dust and dirt kicked up by heavy winds. Their ears are large and pointed. Though related to camels, they do not have any humps on their back. What they do share in common with camels are their feet. Two padded toes on each foot help with footing on rocky trails or gravel slopes.
Guanacos are not picky eaters, they can survive on harsh brush and grasses in the wild. Since they live at high elevations they usualy graze on grasses, leaves and buds. Their stomach has three chambers, and they are ruminants, like cows. This allows them to get the most nutrients from the plants they eat.
Guanacos can go without water for long periods of time, they get their moisture and water from the plants they eat.
Its blood can carry more oxygen than other mammals, which helps the guanaco function well at altitudes of up to 4,000 meters (13,120 feet).
The guanaco is surprisingly graceful in its movements, and is capable of running at speeds of up to 56 km/h (35 mph). They are also excellent swimmers.
The running and swimming are essential for survival since their habitat does not offer place for hiding.
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.
Mating season occurs between November and February. The gestation period is 11.5 months, and a single offspring, with birth weight about 10% of maternal weight, is born to each breeding female every year. Newborns can stand five minutes after birth and begin to follow their mother immediately. They are weaned at 6 to 8 months and may be forced to leave the group at 11 to 15 months old. The young males join with other young bachelors; young females find other family groups to join.
Because guanacos remain widespread in South America, they are classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.
The total population of guanacos in South America is likely a little under 600,000 individuals.
Although the species is still considered wild, there are around 300 guanaco in US zoos and around 200 registered in private herds.
Darwin described the guanaco as ‘an elegant animal, with long slender neck and fine legs’ – a deserved compliment for this speedy, high Andes inhabitant.
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.
A teaspoon of guanaco blood contains about 68 billion red blood cells – four times that of a human.
Guanaco is pronounced “gwa NAH ko.”