Alpacas are domesticated versions of vicuñas, South American ruminants that live high in the Andes. Alpacas are descendants of camelids, who developed in North America and migrated to South America 3 million years ago. Alpacas are related to the llama. While llamas are often used as pack animals, alpacas are raised mainly for their soft fiber. There are two “types” of alpaca, the Huacaya and the Suri. Suri have very long fibers (like dreadlocks), while the more common breed, the Huacaya, has a more compact "crimpy" fleece, with shorter fibers.
Alpacas are very social creatures, gentle and curious. Alpacas will spit when they are distressed or feel threatened. They will sometimes spit at each other when they are competing for food or trying to establish dominance. They will not spit at people unless they are provoked or are abused. Alpacas hum; making an “mmmm” sound. They also shriek when danger is present, and make a sound similar to a "wark" noise when excited. Fighting males may scream, making a warbling bird-like cry.
As herbivores, alpacas only eat vegetation and mostly grass. As domestic animals their diet may be supplemented with nutrients and minerals to aid in overall health management. Like other ruminants, alpacas have a three-chambered stomach that digests the roughage efficiently and will be seen “chewing their cud,” similar to cows.
Alpacas breed once a year with a gestation period of roughly 345 days. The baby alpaca, called a “cria,” weighs 18 to 20 lbs. (8 to 9 kg) when born. Alpacas tend to live five to 10 years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity.
Alpaca fiber is prized by artisans and crafters. Alpaca fiber is very soft, warm and very durable. Unlike sheep's wool, alpaca fiber does not contain lanolin. Alpacas naturally range in 22 colors, from black to browns, tans and white.