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Guanaco (Lama guanicoe) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Taxonomic History & Nomenclature

Recent taxonomies recognize 2-4 subspecies based on morphology and geographic distribution.

  • L. g. guanicoe (Eastern slope of Andes, throughout Patagonia to Tierra del Fuego and Isla Navarino)
  • L. g. huanacus (Chile – western slope of Andes)
  • L. g. voglii  (Southeastern Bolivia, northwestern Paraguay, Argentinean Andes eastern slopes)
  • L. g. cacsilensis (Southern Peru and northern Chile)

Recent molecular analysis by Marin, et al (2008) found little genetic differentiation. Greatest differences between northern most populations and southern populations (L. g. guanicoe and L. g. cacsilensis).

37 different scientific names have been assigned to this species.

  • Large number of regional common names: guanaco, huanaco, luan (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru).

Evolutionary History

Camelidae evolved in North America and flourished there in the Pleistocene.

  • Migrated to Asia via the Alaskan land bridge, evolving into Arabian and Bactrian Camels.
  • Migrated to South America via the Panama land connection, evolving into Vicunas, and Guanacos (fossils exist from 2 million years ago).

Camelids became extinct in North America towards end of the Pleistocene but thrived in their new lands.

Native peoples in the high Andes captured and domesticated guanacos and vicunas (Kadwell 2001).

  • Selective breeding of guanacos resulted in the llama (Lama glama).
  • Selective breeding of the vicunas resulted in the alpaca (Lama pacos).
  • Llamas and alpacas are domestic species and don’t exist in the wild.


Describer (Date): Mueller, 1776

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Artiodactyla* (Even-toed hoofed animals: includes pigs, sheep goats, cattle, deer)

Family: Camelidae

Genus: Lama (South America)

Species: Lama guanicoe (guanaco)

*New anatomical and DNA evidence on the relationship between Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates) and Cetacea (whales and dolphins) recently led to a merging of the two orders into a new group, Cetartiodactyla (Montgelard, 1997; reviewed in Kulemzina, 2009). As of October 2012, experts had not agreed on whether to define Cetartiodactyla as an official taxonomic order that would replace Artiodactyla and Cetacea. Some continue to list guanaco in the order Artiodactyla (Franklin, 2011) or use the term Cetartiodactyla without defining it as an order (IUCN, 2008).

San Diego History

Guanaco at the ground breaking of the Safari Park

The Park's groundbreaking ceremony took place on May 14, 1969—with a special appearance by a guanaco and a young Asian elephant.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Marin et al, (2008)
Gonzalez et al, (2006)
Kadwell et al, (2001)

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