Alpacas actually evolved in North America. They made their way to South America over a land bridge during an ice age. Alpacas were domesticated from wild vicuñas.
Llamas were domesticated from wild guanacos. Alpacas are one of the few animals alive today that live alongside the wild animal they evolved from, vicuñas.
In their quest for gold and to some extent, silver, Spanish conquistadores decimated the advanced herds the ancient peoples worked so hard to create in South America.
Francisco Pizarro was a Spanish conquistador who lived from about 1476 to 1541. He led an expedition that conquered the Inca Empire and captured and killed Incan emperor Atahualpa to claim the lands for Spain.
Pizarro’s troops routinely looted Andean art treasures and melted them down. Pre-Columbian art in South America was astoundingly rich and included amazing textiles made in Paracas as early as 400 B.C. from alpaca and vicuna fibres.
Resplendent textiles made in Paracas, Peru about 700 - 100 B.C. from alpaca and vicuña fibres. Amazingly they are still vibrant today. Photo used with permission from The City of Gothenburg and the National Museums of World Culture, Sweden.
Alpaca mummies studied by American camelid researcher Dr. Jane Wheeler revealed that ancient peoples had advanced breeding skill. Only recently have modern breeders been able to achieve the breeding goals of fineness, density and uniformity that ancient peoples reached.
Types and Population
There are two types of alpacas: Huacaya (say WAH-KY-AH) and Suris. Huacayas have crimped fibre that stands perpendicular to their skin so they look fluffy, like a teddy bear.
Suris have long bundles of locks that hang straight down from their skin, and they usually have a part along their back. They are noticeably lustrous and only make up about 10% of the population of alpacas.
NOTE: It is difficult to find statistics on alpacas in Asia but hopefully their population will continue to grow. Recent exports from Australia have expanded Asian herds.
The Unique Physiology of Alpacas
Alpacas have unique characteristics that make them very eco-friendly fibre livestock. They are also quite personable.
Alpacas have soft, padded feet like a dog that are easy on pasture land and do not contribute to erosion like the hooves of some other fibre livestock.
Alpacas are not true ruminants, yet they have three stomachs for wringing the most nutrition possible from their food. In fact, they are able to absorb 50% more nutrients than sheep.
Alpacas do not have upper teeth but rather chew grass against their palate. Alpaca teeth continue to grow throughout the animal’s life. In their native homelands, they are worn down by the silica in the soil. In other regions, their teeth must be trimmed.
Alpacas must never be kept alone – they are herd animals are happy and comfortable among others of their kind.
Alpacas will spit! This happens mainly when they feel threatened and are trying to buy time to make a clean getaway. Spit is actually bile from their stomachs which usually contains grass or hay and it is very stinky!
When a female alpaca is pregnant, she will vehemently spit at a male who may have designs on mating with her.
Alpaca manure is some of the best around for gardening and is considered nature’s best time-release pellet fertilizer. Alpacas poop in a communal pile, making collecting the fertilizer easy.
Because alpacas live at high altitude in their original habitat, they are able to process oxygen more efficiently than other animals.
Alpacas live at high elevation with no problem whatsoever due to their incredibly insulative fibre and their unique ability to process oxygen efficiently.
In fact, scientists are currently studying their elliptical blood cells. It is theorized that the size, shape and hemoglobin concentration of camelid blood cells may play a role in increasing oxygen-carrying capacity and the ability to exchange oxygen.
Alpacas, both Suris and Huacayas, must be shorn once a year to ensure their health and comfort in hot weather months.
Alpaca fibre is one of the most incredible natural fibres known.
Textiles made from it are some of the finest garments available.
But what specifically makes it so great?
An extremely low scale relief, comparable to, and in the case of Suri, lower than cashmere adds to alpaca’s soft hand and comfortable wear.
The warmest garments available to luxury consumers today are made from alpaca. If you live in a bitterly cold climate, nothing keeps you warmer. Besides being warm in winter, alpaca is cool in summer – particularly blends made with alpaca.
The tremendously light and airy feeling of alpaca makes its incredible thermic qualities unbelievable. Designers are free to employ fancy stitches such as cable knit with no fear of heaviness.
Alpaca fibre occurs naturally in at least twenty-two natural colors with white dyeable to any color. This makes natural alpaca a perfect ready-made candidate for eco-lines of yarn, textiles and garments.
Alpaca fibre comes in more than twenty-two natural colors. White fleece can be dyed to any color textile designers desire.
This allows manufacturing to go smoother and clothes to drape with less cling.
Flame-resistant. Alpaca can be used in such garments as infant pajamas, which benefit from flame retardant qualities. When tested with an open flame, alpaca will not burn.
Less lanolin. Less lanolin means shorter scouring cycles with the opportunity to use eco-friendly soaps in manufacturing.
Alpaca fibre must still be scoured to remove suint, but doing so is easier than with sheep’s wool.
The shiny quality of Huacaya fibre is referred to as brightness while the shiny quality of Suri fibre is called luster. In both types, this very beautiful side effect is the result of low scale relief.
Alpaca felts readily and can be used for both practical projects like airplane panel sound-deadeners and for artistic pursuits. Many contemporary artists use alpaca fibre in textile art.
Alpaca has one of the highest resistance factors of all natural fibres, which is ideal for practical items that must endure hard use. Super baby alpaca is just as soft as cashmere but has much more tensile strength.
A human hair’s resilience is rated at 100, wool is 122.8 and mohair is 136. Alpaca, however, is rated at 358.5.
For processing, this strength is considered adequate for processing alpaca fibre on modern, high-speed equipment.
Allows garments to drape beautifully and wear neatly all day.
Alpaca pairs wonderfully with both natural and synthetic fibres, thus multiplying its usefulness in the textile world almost infinitely. A distinct benefit alpaca brings to other fibres is its added softness.
- Alpacas are special creatures with an interesting natural history and a unique physiology.
- Their characteristics make them one of the most ecologically friendly fibre bearing livestock alive today.
- Alpaca fibre is poised to become one of the most popular natural fibres on earth.
If you would like to learn more about alpacas, be sure to join us at our seminar session by signing up here or contact us at www.AlpacaCulture.com. We look forward to seeing you.