Alpacas! They’re fluffy, they’re good-natured, their hair can make super-soft sweaters and they’re really cute. But alpacas are more than just a furry face.
Alpacas were raised by the 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.
Alpacas come in all sorts of colours, but there are actually only two types of breeds. The difference is in the hair. The Huacaya alpacas have a really fluffy fleece that gives them the appearance of teddy bears, while the Suri type have long locks of hair that grow straight down. Most alpacas that you see in Canada are Huacayas.
Alpacas get shaved for their hair, just like sheep. And just like sheep, all sorts of things can be made from their wool, like sweaters and hats and scarves and blankets. Unlike sheep’s wool, alpaca hair is hypoallergenic, which means people won’t get allergies from it and sneeze and itch. Even better, alpaca wool is flame-resistant and water-resistant. Which means you can have a lot of adventures in your alpaca sweater – that, and it’s easy to clean.
Llamas and alpacas are closely related species. Llamas are bigger than alpacas, they were raised to be pack animals so could carry a lot more on their backs. While both can be shorn like sheep, and have wool made from their hair, llamas have shorter, coarser hair. Alpacas and llamas can have babies together, they usually look like short llamas. In South America they’re called huarizos or mistis, in North America they often get the mash-up name of llapaca.
Just like cats with their kitty litter, alpacas like to have one particular spot to do their business. Usually it’s a dung pile that the whole herd uses, but alpaca breeders who let alpacas into their houses say that they’re very good about letting people know when they need to go outside.
Camels are famous for spitting when they’re annoyed, and as a distantly related species, alpacas will do the same. But alpacas only do this when they’re very upset. The rest of the time, they communicate with other alpacas in their herd by humming.