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Alpaca

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Do you want to learn about the Alpaca? One of the most famous Animals in recent years.

Alpaca

Appearance 

Alpacas

Alpacas belong to the family of Camelidae, the same family as camels. They are a type of ungulate, a group which includes mammals with hooves such as horses and giraffes.

Similar to horses, Alpacas have long legs and a long neck. Other than their round face, their fluffy tail is perhaps their cutest feature. Typically they reach a weight of 121 – 143 pounds, and a height of roughly 35 inches. 

In fact, the Alpacas we know do not occur naturally in the wild. They are domesticated descendants of the species vicuna and guanaco that live at high altitudes in the Andes.

Male and female Alpacas are almost identical. It is only the male’s larger and sharper canines and incisors that set them apart. 

There are two different types of Alpacas. The Huacaya Alpaca and the Suri Alpaca, and which are differentiated by their fur. Huacaya alpacas have a dense and fluffy coat of fur, similar to that of a sheep. On the other hand, Suri Alpacas have cascading corkscrews of fur that reach almost all the way to their hooves.

Huacaya Alpacas constitute 90% of the global  population of Alpacas. This is so because the Suri’s fur, although beautiful, provides inadequate protection against cold climates and therefore they battle to survive in higher altitudes. Both types come in a wide variety of colors including brown, beige white and brown. 

alpaca

Their fluffy fur not only adds to their adorableness, it also makes them highly versatile for humans. Already during the time of the Incan civilization humans used their fur to make coats and jackets. Today, Alpacas are farmed all around the world in order to harvest their fur. Seeing as it provides great insulation and is snow- and wind resistant, it is a frequent component in sleeping bags, scarves and sweaters.

Alpacas vs Llamas

Oftentimes Alpacas are mistaken for their cousins, the Llamas. Llamas likewise descend from the vicuna and guanaco, but are distinctively larger than the Alpacas and have pointier ears. One can also identify either species by their tail: Alpacas keep their tails tucked close to their body, whereas the Llama’s tail stands erect.

Habitat and Distribution

alpaca in south america

Alpacas originated in Peru and today 99% of the world’s Alpaca population reside throughout the South American continent. However, due to being farmed for their desirable fur, they have been exported to many other regions around the world such as: Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. 

Thanks to their fur, which is suitable for both hot and cold climates, they are highly adaptable animals and can inhabit a range of different landscapes. This adaptability is what allows for their global export and farming.

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Their native habitats include both dry and wet areas, and tend to reside in high altitudes – altitudes as high as 15,750 feet. In places where they have been imported they typically live in farmlands. Seeing as they are inherently domesticated, they live much like any other kind of cattle such as cows or sheep. 

Diet 

alpaca

They are grazers and an “Alpacian” diet predominantly consists of pasture grass and hay. When needed, farmers will also supplement their diet with vitamin-rich grain. As to not spoil the grass with their sharp nails, they have padded feet.

Being a member of the camelids family, Alpacas have a three-chambered stomach allowing for maximum nutritional absorption. The grass they eat is continuously combined with chud; a ball of regurgitated semi-digested grass.

Moreover, they chew in a motion resembling the figure eight, giving them that air of attitude that makes them even more loveable.

Lastly, they are not greedy when it comes to food. They only need to consume an amount equivalent to 1,5% of their body weight on a daily basis. 

Mating and life cycle 

alpaca baby and mother

Alpacas do not have a specific mating season albeit it occurs more frequently in spring or autumn. Seeing as they’re kept as livestock mating will usually be prompted by farmers.

Males become sexually mature at 24-36 months old. Females attain sexual maturity already at 10-12 months old. Nonetheless, they should only start breeding when almost having reached their full size to ensure safe births.

Interestingly enough, female alpacas are induced ovulators. This means that they don’t ovulate according to a cycle. Instead they ovulate as a reaction to mating and the presence of semen. After a gestation period that almost lasts a whole year – roughly 11,5 months – a single baby is born, called a cria.

Crias typically weigh about 15 pounds at birth and can walk shortly thereafter. Since the gestation period is so long they are only able to reproduce once a year. Typically they live to be 15 – 20 years, but the documented record-age is 27. 

Fun Facts – That We Bet You didn’t Know about Alpacas

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Alpacas produce a variety of sounds that they use to communicate with each other; a cria and its mother communicate continuously through a humming sound. Likewise, when an Alpaca feels that another Alpaca is invading their space they warn them by means of snorting. Allegedly, a sound made by males, known as orgling, can potentially induce ovulation in female alpacas.

Besides their many sounds, they also spit at people or fellow Alpacas to assert dominance. This is also their trademark and oftentimes the only thing people know about them.

With the promise of a reward, preferably food, Alpacas are actually very easy to train. Consequently, they prove to make good therapy animals which can reduce stress, depression and fatigue in patients. Though, for this to be successful one requires more than one Alpacas since they are highly social animals and need at least one companion. 

Their fur remains highly prized and desirable. However, it does not hold nearly the same value as it did during the alpaca boom which lasted between the 1980’s until the early 2000’s. During this time the highest price recorded for an alpaca was S675,000. No wonder they were marketed as an “investment you can hug”.

Thank you for reading this article! If you want to discover more cute creatures read our article on the Top Ten Cutest Baby Animals!

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