Guanaco is the largest herbivorous mammal of South America from the camel family, the ancestor of the Quechua Lama, domesticated more than 6 thousand years ago. This is the most common species of camel family in South America. They have lived on the continent for over two million years. If you want to know more about this amazing animal, check out this post.

Origin and Description

Photo: Guanaco

Photo: Guanaco

The guanaco (Lama guanicoe) (“Wanaku”, in — Spanish) is a mammal from the camelid family, living in South America, is closely related to the llama. Its name comes from the language of the Quechua Indian people. These are the words huanaco in its former form, its modern spelling looks like wanaku). Young guanacos are called gulengos.

Guanacos have four officially registered subspecies:

  • l. g. guanicoe;
  • l. g. cacsilensis;
  • l. g. voglii;
  • l. g. huanacus.

In 1553, the animal was first described by the Spanish conquistador Cieza de León in his opus Chronicle of Peru. The discoveries of the 19th century made it possible to get acquainted with the vast and previously extinct Paleogene fauna of North America, which helped to understand the early history of the camelid family. The genus of llamas, including guanacos, has not always been limited to South America. Animal remains have been found in Pleistocene deposits in North America. Some fossil ancestors of guanacos were much larger than current forms.

Video: Guanacos

Many species remained in North America during the ice ages. North American camelids include one extinct genus — Hemiauchenia, synonymous with Tanupolama. This is a genus of camels that developed in North America during the Miocene period approximately 10 million years ago. Such animals were common in the fauna of southern North America 25,000 years ago. Camel-like animals have been traced from fully modern species back through early Miocene forms.

Their characteristics became more general, and they lost those who distinguished them from camels earlier. No fossils of such early forms have been found in the Old World, indicating that North America was the original home of camels, and that Old World camels crossed the Bering Isthmus bridge. The formation of the Isthmus of Panama allowed camels to spread into South America. North American camels became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene.

Appearance and Features

Photo: Guanaco looks like

Photo: What a guanaco looks like

Like all camels, the guanaco has a long and slender neck and long legs. Adults have a height of 90 to 130 cm at the shoulders, and body weight — from 90 to 140 kg, with the smallest individuals found in northern Peru and the largest in southern Chile. The coat varies from light to dark red-brown in color with white patches on the chest, belly and legs and a gray or black color on the head. Although the general appearance of the animal is the same in all populations, the general coloration may differ slightly depending on the region. There is no sexual dimorphism in body size or coloration, although males have significantly enlarged fangs.

Camels have relatively small heads, no horns, and a split upper lip. South American camelids are distinguished from their Old World counterparts by the absence of a hump, smaller size and thin legs. Guanacos are slightly larger than alpacas and significantly larger than vicuñas, but smaller and denser than llamas. In guanacos and llamas, the lower incisors have closed roots, and the labial and lingual surfaces of each crown are enameled. Vicuñas and alpacas have elongated and constantly growing incisors.

Fun fact: Guanacos have thick skin on their necks. This protects it from predator attacks. The Bolivians use this leather to make the soles of their shoes.

To cope with the harsh and changing climate they face in their range, guanacos have developed physiological adaptations that make it possible to respond flexibly to changes in their environment. For example, by adjusting the position of their body, individuals can “open” or “close” peculiar thermal windows — patches of very fine wool located on their front and back sides, — to vary the number of open skin areas available for heat exchange with the external environment. This contributes to the rapid reduction of heat loss when the ambient temperature drops.

Where does the guanaco live?

Photo: Lama Guanaco

Photo: Lama guanaco

Guanaco is a widespread species with an extensive, though discontinuous, range, stretching from northern Peru to Navarino Island in southern Chile, from the Pacific Ocean in the northwest to the Atlantic Ocean in the southeast, and from sea level to an altitude of 5000 meters in the Andes mountains. . However, the distribution of guanacos has been heavily influenced by humans.

Constant hunting, habitat fragmentation, competition with farm livestock, and the installation of fences have reduced the distribution of guanacos to 26% of their original range. It is obvious that numerous local populations were exterminated, creating a highly scattered range in many regions.

Distribution of guanacos by country:

  • Peru. The northernmost population of guanacos in South America. Found in the Calipuy National Reserve in the Libertad Department. In the south, the population reaches the Salinas Aguada Blanca National Reserve in the departments of Arequipa and Moquegua;
  • Bolivia. A relict population of guanacos is preserved in the Chaco region. Recently, the animals have been sighted in the southern part of the highlands between Potosi and Chuquisaca. The presence of guanacos has also been reported in southeastern Tarija;
  • Paraguay. a small surviving population has been recorded in the northwest Chaco;
  • Chile. Guanacos are found from the village of Putre on the northern border with Peru to the island of Navarino in the southern zone of Fueguana. The largest population of guanacos in Chile is concentrated in the regions of Magallanes and Aisen in the far south;
  • Argentina. Lives most of the remaining guanacos in the world. Although its range covers almost all of Argentine Patagonia, the population of guanacos is more dispersed in the northern provinces of the country.

Guanacos occupy a wide variety of habitats. Adapted to harsh seasonal conditions, camels are able to cope with the sharply contrasting climate of the Atacama Desert in Chile and the climate of the perpetually wet Tierra del Fuego. Animals prefer dry open habitats, avoiding steep slopes and rocks. In general, the habitats are characterized by strong winds and low rainfall.

Now you know where the guanaco lives. Let's see what the animal eats.

What does a guanaco eat?

Photo: Guanaco in nature

Photo: Guanaco in nature

Guanacos are herbivores. As inhabitants of areas with different climatic conditions, they can use very different food sources and show flexible feeding behavior that varies in space and time. They are found in 4 out of 10 South American habitats: desert and dry scrub plantations, montane and lowland grasslands, savannas and humid temperate forests. In the foothills of the Andes, two shrub species, Colletia spinosissima and Mulinum Spinosum, make up the majority of this species' year-round diet.

However, when their preferred foods become unavailable, guanacos will eat:

  • mushrooms;
  • lichens;
  • flowers;
  • cacti;
  • fruits.

Supplementing your regular diet of herbs and shrubs with these foods. The species' efficient diet and efficient water-energy metabolism have enabled them to survive in harsh environments, including extremely arid climates. Some individuals live in the Atacama Desert, where in some areas it has not rained for over 50 years.

The mountainous coastline, which runs parallel to the desert, allows them to survive in the so-called “foggy oases”. Where cold water touches hot ground and the air cools over the desert, creating fog and therefore water vapor. Sultry winds carry fog through the desert, and cacti catch water droplets. At the same time, lichens that cling to cacti absorb this moisture like a sponge. Guanacos eat lichens and cactus flowers.

Character and Lifestyle Features

Photo: Alpaca Guanaco

Photo: Alpaca Guanaco

Guanacos have a flexible social system, and their behavior can be sedentary or migratory depending on year-round food availability. During the breeding season, they meet in three basic social units: family groups, male groups, and solitary males. Family groups are led by a territorial adult male and contain varying numbers of adult females and juveniles.

Non-breeding, non-territorial adult males form male groups of 3 to 60 individuals and forage in separate areas. Mature males with territories but no females are classified as solitary males, and they may form communities of up to 3 individuals. Environmental conditions determine group composition after the breeding season. In areas with milder winters and stable food, populations live settled, and males breed, defending their feeding territories.

Interesting fact: Guanacos are often found at high altitudes, up to 4000 m. above sea level. To survive in low oxygen levels, their blood is rich in red blood cells. A teaspoon of animal blood contains about 68 billion red blood cells, which is four times more than that of a human.

Females may leave to form winter communities of 10 to 95 individuals. In areas where drought or snow cover reduces food availability, guanacos form mixed herds of up to 500 individuals and move to more sheltered or food-rich areas. These migrations can be altitudinal or lateral displacements, depending on climate and geography. There is a large variation in home territory size. In eastern Patagonia, the size ranges from 4 to 9 km², and in western Patagonia — twice as much.

Social structure and reproduction

Photo: Guanaco Cub

Photo: Baby Guanaco

Males defend feeding territories from invasion by foreign males. These territories, which provide protection from predators and also serve as a food resource for breeding females, are typically 0.07 to 0.13 km² in size. They are occupied either year-round or seasonally by family groups.

Despite the name, members of a particular family group are not necessarily related. Each family group consists of one territorial male and a variable number of females and juveniles. The total number of adults is between 5 and 13. Males become territorial at the age of 4 to 6 years. Enlarged fangs of males are used in fights.

Aggressive behavior of male guanacos, includes:

  • spitting (up to 2 m);
  • threatening postures;
  • chasing and fleeing;
  • biting the legs, hind limbs and neck of opponents;
  • striking with the torso;
  • wrestling with the necks.

Guanacos breed once a season. Mating occurs in family groups between early December and early January. Offspring are born in November or December. The gestation period is 11.5 months, the female annually gives birth to one cub weighing about 10% of the mother's weight. Twins are extremely rare. Due to the long gestation period, babies are able to stand 5–76 minutes after birth. The offspring begin to graze a few weeks after birth, and by 8 months they feed on their own. Female guanacos reach sexual maturity at 2 years of age. Males at 2-6 years old. Each year, 75% of adult females and 15 to 20% of adult males breed.

In guanacos, juveniles of both sexes are removed from family groups in late spring or early summer, when they are 11 to 15 months old. Annual females often travel alone or together among solitary territorial males. Alternatively, they may join women's or family groups. Males of the same age join groups of males, where they stay from 1 to 3 years, honing their fighting skills through aggressive play.

Natural enemies of the guanaco

Photo: Guanaco Family

Photo: Guanaco Family

The main predators of guanacos are cougars, which coexist with them throughout their range, excluding the island of Navarino and other islands of Tierra del Fuego. In some populations, cougar predation accounts for up to 80% of pup mortality. Although cougars have been the only confirmed predators for many years, researchers have recently reported attacks on juvenile guanacos by Andean foxes that are present in Tierra del Fuego as well as other parts of the guanaco's range.

Fun Fact: Guanaco mothers play an important role in protecting their young from predators. Aggressiveness of mothers towards potential predators includes threats, spitting, attacks and kicks. This significantly increases the survival rate of young guanacos.

For guanacos, living in groups is an important strategy against predators. By early detection of dangerous neighborhoods, those living in groups can spend less time vigilant and more time foraging than individuals living alone. In guanacos, the first reaction to potential predators is flight. The individual maintains visual contact with the predator until it gets close, then sounds an alarm to alert the rest of the group and escape.

This strategy is effective against cougars that do not pursue their prey for long distances. As opposed to the more aggressive approach of smaller predators such as Andean foxes. A case was recorded when adult guanacos participated in joint defense against a fox attack. They cornered her, kicked her, and eventually drove her away, thus preventing the guanaco cub from being chased.

Population and species status

Photo: What a guanaco looks like

Photo: What a guanaco looks like

Since guanacos are still widespread in South America, they are classified in the Red Book as the least endangered species. However, careful management of local populations is necessary to prevent declines. This is especially true in light of the growing demand for trapping and shearing among some wild guanacos, which may have additional negative consequences for the growing number of populations involved.

Fun Fact: Guanaco wool is prized for its soft, warm feel to the touch. It is in second place after vicuña wool. Skins, especially from this species of lambs, are sometimes used in place of red fox skins because they are difficult to distinguish by texture. Like llamas, guanacos have a double coat with coarse outer hair and a soft undercoat.

Guanaco populations are also at risk of disease transmission from livestock, over-hunting, especially skins of small gulengos. Their survival is affected by land degradation due to intensive agriculture and overgrazing by sheep. Fences erected by ranchers interfere with the migration routes of guanacos and kill their cubs that get tangled in wires. As a result of human impact, guanacos today occupy less than 40% of their original range, and existing populations are often small and very scattered. The governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru regulate the use of wild guanacos within their borders, but law enforcement is poorly enforced and most guanaco habitats are not effectively protected.

Rate article
Add a comment