Alpacas are small camelid mammals raised by the ancient Incas in South America over 6000 years ago. Kept in herds, alpacas made their dainty way among the mountains of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia, where clothing made from their hair was reserved for Incan royalty. Although similar in several ways, the alpaca is a smaller animal than the llama. They are characterized by small heads, large eyes, flame-shaped ears that can stand up, and long necks. These animals can stand 32 to 39 inches from foot to withers and measure 5.5 feet in length on average.
These mammals have lived in domesticated herds in the Andes Mountains highlands since the Inca era and adapt well to other environments. They are friendly, intelligent, curious, and gentle animals that make wonderful pets. Let’s take a closer look at the top 10 incredible alpaca facts.
1. Alpacas Have a Therapeutic Effect
Although most people are already familiar with therapy dogs, many hospitals and therapy institutes are introducing alpaca therapy. This is because most people become happier after cuddling with an alpaca. This act lifts their spirits and makes them more open to anything. These animals are beautiful, friendly, and remarkably kind, making a great company.
2. Alpacas Have Hypoallergenic Fleece
Alpaca fleece is warm, and unlike sheep’s wool, it doesn’t itch, and people don’t get allergies to it. Alpaca wool is hypoallergenic as it contains no lanolin and allows treatments that don’t require extremely high temperatures or harsh chemicals when cleaning. Like sheep, alpacas get shaved for their super hair, which can be made into sweaters, scarves, and garments.
3. Alpacas Come in Two Different Breeds
Alpacas come in as many as 22 colors and hundreds of different shades, but there are only two types of breeds. The two breeds can be distinguished by their distinct fleeces. The Huacaya breed, which has a thick and fluffy fleece, comprises about 90% of the alpacas in the world. They occur predominantly in cool, high altitudes. Most alpacas you find in Canada are Huacayas. The Suri breed is defined by silkier fleece that grows into long locks of hair that hang from the body. It is thought that their silkier, longer, and less dense fleece is because they have adapted to living in lower, warmer places.
4. Alpacas are Flame-Resistant and Water-Resistant
Similar to wool, alpaca fiber is water-resistant and flame-resistant. These qualities make alpaca fiber lighter than wool but much warmer than cotton in cold and humid climates. They are considered a Class 1 fiber for use in clothes and several furnishings because they pass the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s rigorous testing specifications.
5. Alpaca Species Almost Became Extinct
The alpaca species almost became extinct in the 16th century. This was solely caused by a deadly disease brought to South America by the Spanish invaders, which nearly wiped out 98% of the entire population. The remaining animals had to migrate to higher ground, where they can still be found today, sharing habitat with the flamingos, llamas, mountain lions, and spectacled bears. However, European dwellers rediscovered the species during the 19th century and found the animal to be of great value. They valued the animals for their wool, and when they got sick, they took care of them and helped them get better. This helped their population grow again.
In 1984, a small group of importers brought a carefully selected herd of alpacas into Canada and the U.S. This herd grew from a couple of alpacas in zoos and private farms to about 20,000 alpacas in the world today.
6. Alpacas Predominantly Give Birth in the Morning
You may wonder, why in the morning? This intriguing fact is related to life in the high deserts of South America, where temperatures are at constant lows at night. Female alpacas often give birth to one baby cria after a pregnancy lasting between 342 and 345 days. Birthing their young during the day allows them to get dry, start wandering around and start nursing before the temperatures drop drastically. In 90% of cases, human intervention is not needed.
7. Alpacas Can Die of Loneliness
It is not advisable to own only one alpaca as it may die of loneliness. They always need to be bought in pairs to enable them to have contact with others, as they enjoy living in a happy herd. They are known to have strong herd instincts and need the company of other alpacas to lead a happy and fulfilled life. An alpaca should live in a herd with at least two other alpacas. Crias would be left with the mother to nurse for a minimum of 6 months before being separated to fend for themselves.
8. Alpacas Communicate Using Non-Verbal Signs and Sounds
Alpacas produce a few vocalizations to communicate. They also communicate through body language, using their tails to express their feelings when they are afraid or in trouble. Alpacas hum when they are happy, curious, worried, fearful, bored, distressed, or cautious. You may find a mother and baby humming together when bonding. A male tends to cluck in a welcome to others. Alpacas snort when they feel threatened by other alpacas and give a gurgling sound to warn others of incoming danger.
9. Alpacas and Llamas can Cross-Breed
Alpacas and llamas are closely related species and can have babies together. Llamas are bigger than alpacas and were groomed to be pack animals to enable them to carry a lot more on their backs. While both can be shaved for their fleece like sheep, they can also be differentiated by their hair. Llamas have shorter, coarser hair. When llamas cross-breed with alpacas, the baby is called a huarizo, which usually looks like a short llama.
10. Alpacas Spit When They Get Angry
Alpacas spit when they are very angry or annoyed. They spit as a form of defense mechanism against predators and also to ward off unwanted attention. For instance, they become possessive about their food and might express their displeasure by spitting at other alpacas they consider a threat to their food. Additionally, alpacas intentionally spit at humans from time to time. Therefore, studying their behaviors and learning to avoid such unpleasant situations is essential.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © fotorince/Shutterstock.com
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