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Alpaca

Alpaca Facts

Size 32-39 inches (80-100 cm) (shoulder height)
Speed Up to 34 mph (56 km/h)
Weight 121-176 pounds (55-80 kg)
Lifespan 20-25 years
Food Grass
Predators Coyotes, wolves, wild dogs, jackals, condors
Distribution South America
Habitat Highlands, mountains
Order Even-toed ungulates
Family Camels
Scientific name Vicugna pacos
Characteristics Hoofed animal with thick, warm fur; long neck

Main Characteristics

Alpacas are humpless camels. They are closely related to llamas, vicuñas and guanacos. They all belong to the camel family.

Alpacas Alpacas - Photo: Dieter H/Shutterstock

Species

There are two species of alpacas:


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  • Huacaya alpaca: thick, fluffy fur
  • Suri alpaca: silky fur that mats into long dreadlocks

Distribution and Habitat

Alpacas live in mountainous regions at 11,000-16,000 feet (3,500-5,000 meters) above sea level. They're most common in the Andes in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile. They prefer swampy but mountainous, high-altitude areas.

Life Style

Alpacas are diurnal herd animals. They spend a lot of time eating grass - about 8-9 hours every day. When they feel comfortable, they run and jump. They are very social.

Alpaca Characteristics Alpaca Characteristics - Photo: Wamin Muklashy/Shutterstock

Anatomy and Appearance

Appearance

Alpacas have a long neck, small head, short nose, large eyes, erect ears, and wooly, soft, curly fur.

Size and weight

Alpacas have a shoulder height of 32-39 inches (80-100 cm). They weigh 121-176 pounds (55-80 kg). The females are slightly lighter and smaller.


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Fur

• Color

Alpacas are white, beige, brown, reddish brown, gray, black, multicolored and/or piebald.

• Anti-allergic

Alpacas are anti-allergic! Sheep wool contains wool fat (also called lanolin) and can trigger allergic reactions. However, things are different with alpacas. Their wool doesn't contain wool fat. As a result, it is also suitable for people with allergies. In addition, alpaca wool is fantastic because it doesn't cause any itching on the skin.

• Warmer than Sheep's Wool

Alpaca wool is five times warmer than sheep wool. It has particularly fine fibers that “lock in” more heat. It is even said that alpaca wool is the warmest wool of all.

Alpaca or Llama - What's the Difference?

Alpacas and llamas look very similar, so it's not easy to tell them apart. However, alpacas are significantly smaller and lighter. Their head is smaller, they have a shorter nose and shorter legs. The fur is longer, especially on the head. The ears are straight - in the llama they are curved.

Alpaca or Llama - What's the Difference? Alpaca or Llama - What's the Difference? - Photo: fotorince (Alpaka), Cavan for Adobe (Lama)/stock.adobe.com

Diet

Alpacas are herbivores. They feed primarily on fresh grass. However, grass has few nutrients and is very fibrous. To get the most out of the grass, they have a stomach with three chambers. Sometimes they also eat hay, bark and leaves.

Behavior

Nature and Temperament

Alpacas are very social. They live together in families and form herds. They're very intelligent and have a gentle, friendly nature. Maintaining a certain "personal space" is crucial for alpacas, ensuring a comfortable distance from both other animals and humans. When they feel threatened, they become nervous and may spit. When two males fight with each other, they can also become very aggressive.

Body Language

Alpacas don't just communicate through sounds. They also use body language. When feeling cornered, they exhibit a common behavior where the male positions itself sideways in front of its family, flattening its ears to appear bigger and more threatening.

Defense

By stretching their long necks upwards, alpacas are able to observe their surroundings effectively and spot enemies before they come too close. If they're unable to get to safety in time, they don't surrender. They defend themselves against smaller predators like coyotes, foxes, or dogs by spitting on them or kicking them with their hooves.

Alpacas Alpacas - Photo: Rita_Kochmarjova/Shutterstock

Spitting

Llamas are known to spit, but alpacas spit, too. However, their spit is not just saliva like it is with us humans. It also contains part of its stomach contents like chewed or half-digested plants.

Why Do Alpacas Spit?

There are many reasons why alpacas spit. If a conspecific tries to steal food, it might get spitted on. A female that isn't interested in a male, might spit on it. Males spit on each other when fighting for rank in the herd. Alpacas also spit to scare off predators. Before they spit, there is a warning: They raise their heads, set up their ears and snort. What follows is a “warning shot” with saliva. The next “shot” contains stomach contents.

Do Alpacas Spit on People?

Alpacas usually only spit at conspecifics. They only spit on people when they really feel threatened by them.

How Far Can Alpacas Spit?

They're able to spit up to a distance of 10 feet (3 meters) with great precision.

Alpaca Herd Alpaca Herd - Photo: NewmanFilm/Shutterstock

Senses and Abilities

Sounds

Alpacas produce a surprisingly large variety of sounds. They scream, cluck like a chicken, or squawk like a bird. Here are some of their most common sounds:

  • Humming (low): content and happy
  • Humming (high): worried or feels threatened
  • Snorting or gurgling: when a conspecific comes too close
  • Murmuring: to warn each other
  • Cackling: when a mother is worried; in males it is a friendly “hello”
  • Screaming: when being attacked
  • Screeching: to scare off a conspecific in battle
  • Growling: when a female is upset or angry

Life Expectancy

Alpacas live 20-25 years in the wild.

Enemies and Threats

Natural Enemies

Their natural enemies are dogs, Andean jackals, Andean condors, Andean mountain cats, coyotes and wolves.

Humans

Humans are the biggest threat to the alpaca. They're kept for their wool and are killed to eat their meat.

Alpacas Alpacas - Photo: zhu difeng/stock.adobe.com

Importance for the Ecosystem

Alpacas maintain balance in nature by keeping the grass short and fertilizing the soil.

Reproduction

Alpacas have offspring once a year. After a gestation period of up to 345 days, a single baby is born. It weighs 17-19 pounds (8-9 kg). It relies on its mother's milk for approximately seven months. The young animals have their own name: they are called Cria. The term comes from Spanish and means “young animal”. Cria is also the name given to the babies of llamas, vicunas and guanacos.

Alpaca Baby Alpaca Baby - Photo: Wirestock/stock.adobe.com

Fun Facts

Alpacas Herd Sheep

Alpacas are used as “herding dogs” for sheep. Just like llamas.

Alpacas as Therapy Animals

Alpacas have a very calming attitude towards people because they are friendly and peaceful. There are hospitals and other facilities that even use alpacas as therapy animals – similar to therapy dogs.

The Oldest Alpaca (Living)

The oldest living alpaca was born in 1997, so it is over 25 years old (as of November 2023).

The Alpaca Is Related To:

  • Bactrian Camel
  • Dromedary
  • Guanaco
  • Llama
  • Vicuna

Animals in the Same Biome:


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