Alpaca Facts

The alpaca is a cousin to the llama. It is a beautiful, intelligent animal native to the Andean Mountain range of South America, particularly Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.  The United States first commercially imported alpacas in 1984. Over 160,000 alpacas are now registered in North America.

Suri alpaca running in full fleece

There are two types of alpacas in the United States today.  Although almost physically identical, what distinguishes the two types is their fiber. The Huacaya (wa-Ki’-ah) is the more common of the two and has a fluffy, extremely fine coat.  The Suri (SUR-ee) is the rarer of the two and has fiber that is silky and resembles pencil-locks.

Only 10% of the alpaca population is Suri. The other 90% is Huacaya.

Adults stand at approximately 36 inches at the withers and generally weigh between 150 and 200 pounds.  They do not have horns, hooves, claws or incisors.  They are alert, intelligent, curious, predictable, social animals that seek companionship. Alpacas communicate most commonly by humming softly.

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

Alpacas and llamas are cousins, but they are different.

Graphic showing the differences between alpacas and llamas

Alpacas…

  • weigh about 150 lb (70 kg)
  • have luxurious fiber
  • are gentle and timid
  • can learn tricks
  • need protection

Llamas…

  • weigh about 400 lb (180 kg)
  • have course fiber
  • are very brave
  • can carry heavy packs
  • provide protection

Alpacas are from the Andes Mountains of South America

Map of South America showing where alpacas come from.

Alpacas are pregnant for a long time

Alpacas are pregnant for about 11.5 months and then usually only give birth to one baby called a “cria”. A cria is about 20lbs. at birth and is usually up walking around within the first hour.

Alpaca babies are called "cria".

Alpaca fiber

Alpacas are shorn, without harm, every twelve to eighteen months.  They produced five to ten pounds of luxurious fiber.  Long ago, alpaca fiber was reserved for royalty.  Today it is purchased in its raw fleece form by hand-spinners and fiber artists.  Knitters buy it as yarn.

Because of its soft texture, alpaca fiber is sometimes compared to cashmere.  Making the fiber even more coveted, it has the luster of silk.  Alpaca is just as warm as, yet 1/3 the weight of wool.  It comes in 22 natural colors, yet can be dyed any desired shade.

Alpaca fiber comes in 22 natural colors

Containing no lanolin, alpaca fiber is also naturally hypoallergenic.  Most people who are sensitive to wool find that they can wear alpaca without the itching or irritation they feel from wool because alpaca fiber is smooth.  Additional performance characteristics include: stretch, water repellency, and odor reduction.  For travelers, clothing made from alpaca is desirable because it is wrinkle-resistant.

Alpaca fiber is…

  • Warmer than wool. Individual strands of alpaca fiber are hollow. This makes each fiber lighter and, because of the trapped air inside each fiber, a great insulator. Due to its breathability, all-season comfort is possible because alpaca clothing shields you from warm and cool temperatures.
  • Soft as cashmere. No kidding.
  • Hypoallergenic. Those who are allergic to wool won’t have such problems with alpaca. It contains no lanolin.
  • Moisture wicking. Because of its low absorbency rate, alpaca fiber draws moisture away so it can evaporate gradually.
  • Durable. It is resistant to piling and the fiber retains its shape over time.
  • Flame resistant. It is also marginally flame retardant, which means it will self-extinguish.