A member of the same family as the camel, the alpaca is a kind of ruminant, processing grasses and plants through a three-sectioned stomach that works similarly to a cow's stomach. Alpacas are one of the three types of llamas with long necks, small heads and split lips. They are often kept as fiber-producing animals because their long fur coats are easily sheared. The fibers are soft, luxurious, and warm. They are also kept as pets because of their friendly and gentle personalities.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Order - Artiodactyla
Family - Camelidae
Genus - Vicugna
Species - V. pacos
Common Names - Alpaca (two breeds: Suri Alpaca and Huacaya Alpaca)
Alpacas have long, slim legs, blocky bodies covered with fluffy fur, and long, thin necks. They can weigh between 120 and 140 pounds. There are 22 different color variations for an alpaca's coat. Usually alpaca coats are shades of brown, black, gray, and white. They can be spotted or solid colored. Alpacas have two toes on each foot and they walk on a fatty pad on the underside of each toe. They have toenails that protect the tops and sides of the toes.
A female alpaca is able to reproduce around the age of 14 to 18 months. She is pregnant for 11 1/2 months before she gives birth to a baby called a cria that weighs 15 to 20 pounds. The cria will nurse from its mother for about six months before weaning. The female is able to become pregnant again just two weeks after giving birth to her cria. Males are sexually mature between 1 and 3 years of age.
Alpacas usually live in herds that include one male, a harem of females, and the babies. Young males may live in "bachelor" herds after weaning until they establish their own harems. Alpacas are great at spotting predators, and they will drive away predatory animals with well-placed kicks.
Alpacas are descendants of the wild vicunas of South America. Alpacas evolved in the Andes mountains, where the Incas kept them as pack animals and fiber producers, and for meat and religious ceremonies. Alpaca fur was one of the hallmarks of the Inca economy. The number of alpacas one had was an indicator of social status and wealth. In the 1600s, the Spanish Conquistadors conquered the Inca empire, but some of the survivors hid in the mountains with their alpacas. The alpaca cross-bred with native llamas, but current breeders are trying to return the quality of the alpaca to what it was during the Inca Empire.
After the Conquistadors came to South America, the alpaca population hovered near extinction. However, they are now plentiful in the wild with over 3.5 million animals living in South America. There are also domesticated herds of alpacas kept all over the world. In the United States and Canada alone there are over 4,000 registered alpacas.