Alpaca (Vicugna pacos) is a species of South American Camelid family, where they graze at an altitude of 3000 - 4000 meters on the Andes Mountains Altiplano, which runs through Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. They are similar to, and often confused with, the llama, however, alpacas are often noticeably smaller than llamas. The two animals are closely related and can successfully cross-breed.
Alpacas and llamas are also closely related to the vicuña, which is believed to be the alpaca's wild ancestor, and to the guanaco. There are two breeds of alpacas, the Huacaya alpaca (pronounced Wuh-kai-ya) and the Suri alpaca. The world population of alpacas is approximately 90% huacaya and 10% suri. Huacaya alpacas are fluffy like teddy bears and Suri alpacas have long shiny locks like very soft, slightly curly hair.
While similar to sheep's wool, it is warmer, not prickly, and has no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. Alpaca fiber is naturally water-repellent and difficult to ignite. Alpacas can live 15-20 years. Females can be bred at about 13 months or 40 to 45kg, whichever occurs last. Males usually achieve full maturity at around three years of age, at which time they can be used for breeding. Gestation and birth gestation for alpacas is from 11 to 11½ months. A single (twins are extremely rare) cria is born usually in the morning and often with no human assistance. Crias usually weigh from 6 to 10 kilograms at birth and can stand and nurse within two hours. They are usually weaned at five to six months. Most females can produce 10 – 12 cria in a lifetime. They are herd animals and their social structure requires that they live in the company of other alpacas. An alpaca will be lonely, and may even sicken and die if taken away to live by itself.
Alpacas have no upper teeth. They have lower teeth and an upper dental pad, and do not bite. They have soft padded feet with two toenails on each foot. Alpacas come in twenty two recognized colors and many more in between. Colors can range from brilliant white to the deepest black with all shades of grays including rare rose gray, to browns, fawns, and reds. Alpaca fiber is commonly known as "The Fiber of the Gods", as it is very fine, soft, dense, very warm and insulating.
This fiber spun into yarn is especially resilient and strong. Garments made from it are comparable to cashmere, but much more durable and easy to care for. Fiber from alpacas contains only minute amounts of lanolin so it is not greasy and can be shorn and spun the same day.
Alpacas are among the most gentle of animals and are curious and friendly. They are not aggressive animals, and kicking is a very rare and biting rarer. Alpacas do occasionally spit at each other in order to maintain their space or when competing for food. They rarely spit at people unless they have been startled. Alpacas communicate through humming and by ear, tail positions, and body postures. They make a shrill alarm call when threatened by predators.
Fun Facts about Alpacas
Alpacas can be halter trained and will walk on a lead. They enjoy being paraded about and will allow you to take them to schools, shows, and even hospitals and nursing homes, where they are always a big hit!
Fiber from alpacas is so expensive because it is the most natural and light or heavy in weight, depends on how it is spun.
Alpacas are sweet animals but won't hesitate to spit at you. Female use this behavior to tell a male she's not interested in his advances, and both genders use it to keep competitors away from food. Spitting is also used to warn an aggressor away.