10 Facts You Never Knew About Alpacas

Alpacas may just be the cutest of all the Camelidae family. With their floppy furry tufts, slender necks, ingénue eyes and coy grins, they are the "it" girls and boys of the ungulate world. But beyond their charming, quirky good looks, these creatures are responsible for bearing some of the silkiest, most versatile fiber found in nature, for which they are shorn annually. Alpaca is a specialty fiber that has been described as stronger than wool, finer than cashmere, smoother than silk, softer than cotton, warmer than goose down and better-breathing than any thermal knit. Along with that, alpacas possess some pretty remarkable personality traits.   

 

1. They're ancient!  Alpacas were domesticated by the Incas more than 6,000 years ago and raised for their exquisite fleece. Due to its quality and all of its superhero characteristics, alpaca fiber was reserved exclusively for the elite and nobility.

2. They're trendy!  In 1984, a small group of importers brought the first of a carefully selected herd to the United States and Canada, and they’ve been dotting the landscape ever since. Alpacas have been particularly popular on social media in the past couple of years. Some say that alpacas are the new unicorns!

3. They grow superlative, hypoallergenic fleece!  Alpaca fiber is much like sheep’s wool, but warmer and not itchy. It is lacking in lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic and also allows it to be processed without the need for high temperatures or harsh chemicals in washing.

4. There are two types of alpacas in this world...  Suri and the Huacaya. The Suri has fiber that grows long and forms silky dreadlocks. The Huacaya has a wooly, dense, crimped fleece, like a teddy bear, giving it a very wooly appearance. About 90 percent of all alpacas are Huacayas, and for that, Suri Alpaca are the most rare and most desirable because of their silky feel. See picture below.

5. They're water-resistant!  Like wool, alpaca fiber is water-resistant, but it can wick away moisture because of its unique ability to mimic cotton in moisture regain. These attributes are what make alpaca feel lighter than wool but warmer than cotton in cool and damp climates.

6. They come in a rainbow of hues!  Alpaca fiber comes in 22 colors and hundreds of shades, from white to light rose gray to dark fawn, in addition to the blends that can be made from those, thus minimizing the need for pollution-intensive dying.  

7.  They're therapeutic!  When most people think of therapy animals they imagine dogs, but therapy alpacas are growing in popularity at hospitals, healthcare facilities and retirement homes around the world. 

8. They spit!  Like their cousins, the llamas, alpacas spit when angry or annoyed. They usually reserve this activity for each other when quarreling over food, but they may let one fly in your direction if you happen to be giving them a shot or trimming their nails! 

9. They are great for the environment! Alpacas have soft pads on their feet, which don't churn up the ground like a cow or horse's hooves do. When alpacas eat grass, they snip off the top of the plant unlike some other animals that pull the grass up by the root when eating... which is why they have a reputation for being great lawnmowers! 

10. They hum and haw!  Humming is the most common sound that alpacas make. Alpacas hum when they are curious, content, worried, bored, fearful, distressed or cautious.

BONUS FACT!

11. They even share a bathroom!  Alpacas use a communal dung pile (where they do not graze, thankfully). Because of their predisposition for using a dung pile, some alpacas have been successfully house-trained. Haven’t you always wanted an alpaca pet?