Auquénidae: Characteristics, Taxonomy, Habitat, Feeding

The Auquénidos or Lamini are placental mammals belonging to the Camelidae family. Taxonomically they form a tribe, where the Lama and Vigcuna genera are found. Some species are wild, such as the guanaco and the vicuña, and others are domestic, such as the llama and alpaca.

The economy of the Inca empire was based, among other things, on the products and by-products from the llama and the vicuña. With the fiber of the vicuña, fabrics called Kumpi were woven, which were used by the Inca royalty.

These animals are found in the Andean highlands of South America. In these territories, temperatures can be below 0 ° C.

The Auquénidos live in adverse environments, located at 4000 meters above sea level. Due to this, they have developed anatomical and physiological characteristics that allow it to develop in hypoxic conditions due to altitude. They have also adjusted their diet to the scarce vegetation typical of the climatic conditions.

The term auquenid is occasionally replaced by that of South American camelids, due to the fact that many researchers consider that this was not a monophyletic taxon.

Currently it has been shown that Auquenids are monophyletic, however both names are accepted in the literature.

Article index

  • one

    Economic importance

  • two


    • 2.1


    • 2.2


    • 23


    • 2.4


    • 2.5


    • 2.6


    • 2.7

      Salivary glands

    • 2.8


    • 2.9


    • 2.10

      Cell morphology

  • 3


    • 3.1

      Lamini tribe

  • 4


  • 5


  • 6


    • 6.1

      Mating and copulation

  • 7


    • 7.1


  • 8


Economic importance

The raising of vicuñas and llamas is a relevant economic activity for a vast group of the high Andean population, mainly for the inhabitants of Peru and Bolivia. Many families in the region depend directly or indirectly on the resources they obtain from these animals.

At present, innumerable Andean communities have these animals as their main livestock wealth.

The alpaca and llama are an important source of meat, which can be consumed fresh or dry, and it is also usually sold in local or regional markets, since it is considered an exotic product of high commercial value.

These animals provide the artisanal industry with fiber, with which fabrics are made to make ponchos, tapestries, socks, sacks and harnesses for horses. Leather is used to make highly resistant ropes.

Even the dung of the Laminis is used. In the Andean communities they are used as fuel, in the cooking of the different dishes of the local cuisine. It is also an excellent fertilizer for crops.

The flame is used as a means of loading and transportation in those rural areas that lack communication routes.



The size is highly variable among the members of this group, becoming a characteristic that differentiates each species. The llama is much larger and heavier than the vicuña. A flame can weigh between 130 and 200 kilograms and measure about 1.80 meters.

The vicuña is the smallest of all the Auquénidae. It measures about a meter, weighing around 35 or 65 kilograms.


The color of the wool in alpacas and llamas goes from white to brown, although they could also have intermediate shades of these colors or combinations with different ones, such as black and reddish. The wool of the alpaca tends to be more uniform, compared to that of the other Lamini.

In alpaca, the wool or fleece can be made up of thick fibers on the upper part and fine on the inside.


In the llama the udder is located in the inguinal region. It has four nipples, two anterior and two posterior. It is divided into two sides, right and left, due to the presence of a longitudinal groove.


In the llama the position of the tail is semi-straight, while in the other species it is down against the rear of the animal.


Members of this group have a wide mouth, with thin, mobile lips. The upper part is divided in two, due to the presence of a middle groove. His lower lip is larger.


In llama and alpaca, the incisors have three faces: lingual, labial, and masticatory. These teeth protrude from the jaw. In vicuña they are very long, presenting only two faces: labial and lingual. In the male vicuña, the canine is hooked.

Salivary glands

In the mouth are the salivary glands, made up of the parotid, submaxillary, sublingual, buccal, palatal, labial and lingual glands.

The function of this group of glands is to secrete saliva, which lubricates the food and starts the digestion process, thanks to the enzymes it contains.


The female’s uterus has two horns, where the left horn is larger than the right. Extended it has a conical shape, the narrow end relates to the oviduct and the wide end to the body of the uterus.


This organ is divided into three cavities and a so-called temporary stomach. The first cavity is the largest and has no internal papillae. Internally it is divided into two segments, by means of a pillar. The second cavity is smaller than the first.

The third stomach is tubular in shape, slightly dilated at its caudal end, an area known as the terminal stomach.

Cell morphology

At the cellular level, Auquénids have some characteristics that allow them to adapt to the situations of the environment where they develop. One of these conditions is hypoxia at altitude.

The lack of oxygen, motivated by the high latitudes where these animals live, has caused some genetic modifications. This leads to structural changes in the hemoglobin molecules, aimed at increasing their affinity for oxygen.

Auquénidae blood has a much higher affinity for oxygen than that present in other mammals.


Animal Kingdom.

Subkingdom Bilateria.

Infra-kingdom Deuterostomy.

Chordate Phylum.

Vertebrate Subfilum.

Infrafilum Gnathostomata.

Tetrapoda superclass.

Mammal class.

Subclass Theria.

Infraclass Eutheria.

Order Artiodactyla.

Camelidae family.

Subfamily Camelinae.

Lamini tribe

Genus Lama

The llama, in adult size, can measure from 1.7 to 1.8 meters and weigh around 200 kilograms. On the upper jaw it has pointed incisor teeth, followed by a curved canine. It also has, on each side, two small and three wide premolars.

In the lower jaw, the three incisor teeth are long and procumbent. The llama can be considered as pseudo-ruminant. Your stomach has three cavities, where the vegetables you eat are digested. The llama and the guanaco are species of this genus.

Genus Vicugna

The vicuña is small, its size is around one meter, weighing between 35 and 65 kilograms. His wool coat is reddish-brown on the back, while his chest and throat are long and white. Its head is small with medium long ears.

They are native to the central Andes of South America, found in Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, and northern Chile. Its representatives are the vicuña and the alpaca.


The Auquénidos can withstand the adversities of the high plateau of the South American Andes, which are concentrated in countries such as Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile and Colombia.

At present, the Páramos of Ecuador are also part of the natural habitat of vicuñas, llamas and alpacas. The guanaco can be found in areas such as scrubland, coastal hills and the western region of Paraguay.

The habitat shows a heterogeneous and very rugged relief, with formations such as hills, cliffs, streams, streams, canyons and hills. These are covered with grasses, where the llama and the vicuña eat for long hours.

The vicuña usually occupies open plains, surrounded by rocky cliffs. They are arid-type natural environments, located at 4,000 meters high, with a cold, dry and windy climate.

Temperatures are close to 0 ° C and with the presence of summer rains. The humidity is very low and the variations in temperature between day and night are very large.

Guanacos inhabit cool, semi-desert areas with abundant grasses, which are usually found at an altitude of 4000 meters. In this way, they can be found in the stony plains and areas of great heights, near the eternal snows.


The Lamini feed on the natural grasses found in the Andean plains of South America. The amount and variety of forage that grow at that altitude, about 4000 to 5000 meters above sea level, will be directly associated with seasonal changes in the environment.

Grass availability varies from the time of highest humidity, from December to March, to the driest season, from May to October. Animals adapt to this, storing fat in their subcutaneous, muscle, and retroperitoneal tissues.

Llamas and vicuñas are highly efficient in metabolizing cellulose molecules, contained in plants. This is mainly due to the fact that digested food spend a long time in the digestive tract, where gastric digestion and fermentation of plant fibers take place.

The gastric digestion of Auquénidae is similar but not the same as the digestion that occurs in ruminants. The llama and vicuña regurgitate and chew the ingested food again, being very efficient in extracting protein from poor quality plant material.

In addition to this, its stomach has three cavities, not four as in ruminants. Due to this they are usually considered as pseudo-ruminants.


The female reproductive system is made up of the ovaries, the oviduct, the uterus, the vagina, and the vulva. The male has a penis, testes, vas deferens, prostate, and bulbourethral glands.

The female of the auquénidos reaches its sexual maturity around 10 months of age, however, it is interested in the male only when it is 12 or 14 months old. The male is capable of sexually searching for a female when he is about a year old.

At birth, the penis is attached to the foreskin. As the male sexually matures he begins to produce testosterone, which causes these adhesions to break down and he can copulate. This occurs around three years of age.

Females do not have a defined estrous cycle and, unless they are in a state of gestation or just calving, they are very receptive to the male. Their ovulation is induced, which may be due to a neuroendocrine response to the physical stimulation of copulation.

However, studies have revealed that there is also a factor in the semen of the auquenid male, which stimulates the ovary to expel the female sexual gamete.

Mating and copulation

The male runs after the female, initiating the courtship. Then she sits down and allows the male to copulate, ejaculation occurs intrauterine. During copulation, the female remains silent, while the male makes guttural sounds.

Some reproductive characteristics of this group notably influence their low reproductive performance, such as the long gestation period, compared to other species, and that generally the gestation is of a single offspring.


Auquenids are generally docile and friendly. However, if they feel threatened, they may kick or spit at the opponent.

Vicuñas have a well structured social system. Adult males live in a harem, where there are two or three females with their young. There are two territories, each delimited by the male of the group.

One is the feeding zone, which is used during daylight hours. In this area, the male makes mounds of droppings that are sniffed out by the dominant male when he reaches that area. These mounds are thought to be used to demarcate the territory.

The other territory is to rest, where they go at night. The two zones are usually joined by a free strip of land. The male fiercely defends access to these areas, making the females feel protected when they are in each of these areas.

The young males and those that have been expelled from the harems gather, forming groups of up to 30 animals. The territorial males begin to push the members of this grouping towards those places where the grasses are scarce or of low quality.


The territorial male, before mating, courts the females that belong to his harem. First run after her, then try to ride her. This is not done with the intention of fertilizing her, but to force her to lie on the ground, where she can later copulate.

If the female rejects the male, when he approaches her, he gallops away, projecting his hind limbs backwards.

The only one who can court and mate with the females is the dominant male of the herd. However, a strong and healthy single male may fight with the leader for dominance in the group. If he succeeds, this young man will take over the group, and the previous leader would come out of the pack.


  1. Raúl Marino, Aranga Cano (2009). Feeding of South American camelids and -grass management. UNCP-Peru. Andean Consortium for Development. Recovered from
  2. Wikipedia (2018). Lamini. Recovered from
  3. Pinto Jiménez, Chris Evelyn, Martín Espada, Carmen, Cid Vázquez María Dolores (2010). South American camelids classification, origin and characteristics. Complutense Journal of Veterinary Sciences. Recovered from
  4. Sol Alpaca (2012). South American Camelids. Recovered from
  5. Alexander Chávez R., Alberto Sato S, Miluska Navarrete Z., Jannet Cisneros S (2010). Gross anatomy of the mammary gland of the llama (Lama glama). Scielo Peru. Recovered from
  6. Wikipedia (2018). Vicuña. Recovered from
  7. Timothy M. Smith (1985). Reproduction in South American Camelids. Iowa State University. Recovered from
  8. L. Vila, VG Roig (1991). Diurnal movements, family groups and alertness of vicuna (Vicugna vicugna) during the late dry season in the Laguna Blanca Reserve (Catamarca, Argentina). Institute for Research in Arid Zones, Regional Center for Scientific and Technological Research, Argentina. Recovered from

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