Alpacas, a relative of camels and llamas, are photogenic, funny and intelligent animals. The South America native species has been domesticated for thousands of years for its silky fleece, and its sustainability and cultural legacy make it a really fascinating animal. We offer a great collection of woven and knitted alpaca products here. Read on for more about spitting, speculative market bubbles, "baby alpaca" and more....
1. Alpacas are Camelids
That's right, the South American creatures are relatives of camels, llamas, vicunas and guanaco. It's estimated that members of the family Camelidae were in South America as early as 50 million years ago, and while they have flourished in South America, they became extinct in North America around 3 million years ago.
2. Their Coats are Colorful
Alpacas are sheared once a year, and usually yield about 5-10 lbs. of fiber. While white is the most common color (as it is more easily dyed), alpacas can be any of 22 colors, with hundreds of variations from black, grey, beige and deep brown.
3. What is "Baby Alpaca," Exactly?
Are little baby alpacas sheared? No. The fleece of an alpaca is graded based on the size of each individual fiber, which can vary across different areas of the body. Baby alpaca is under 22 microns wide (by comparison, human hair ranges from 17 microns to 181 microns in diameter, and cashmere can be as fine as 14 microns).
As alpacas age, their fleece tends to get thicker and less fine, and 'baby alpaca' tends to come from animals under 2 years old. However, an entire fleece won't necessarily be baby alpaca, and there may be areas of higher grade fibers on an older alpaca's fleece.
4. The Spitting? The Squeaking?
Alpacas and other camelids can express irritation or stress by spitting. While they usually spit at others in their herd, they can spit at humans. It ranges from fully emptying the contents of their (first) stomach up to 10 feet away, to blowing air and a few droplets. They also have a wide variety of vocalizations:
5. There Was a Speculative Alpaca Bubble, and it Burst in 2005
More than 50% of the world's alpacas live in Peru and most live in South America. But beginning in 1984, when the first alpacas were imported to the US, a growing group of enthusiasts drove prices for breeding stock into an unsustainable stratosphere- when alpacas were selling for hundreds of dollars in South America, US breeders were spending tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single alpaca. This article details how a research article analyzing alpaca prices sent the market into freefall beginning in 2005.
However, alpaca farms persist in the US, and alpacas are also used as guard animals for other herds, and even as therapy animals!