Alpaca

Alpaca

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Vicugna pacos
Population size
3.5 Mln
Life Span
5-20 yrs
TOP SPEED
48 km/h
WEIGHT
55-65 kg
HEIGHT
81-99 cm
LENGTH
1200-2250 mm

Alpaca is a domesticated species of camelid. In fact, Alpaca is the smallest of camelid family, having slim neck and body. Their heads, as well as the whole body, are slender while ears are, conversely, large and acuminate. Some alpacas have unicolorous wool, while others’ coat is varicolored, including about 22 colors: from black to white, from ginger to brown. Lower and upper incisors, along with lower canines, serve adult males as fighting teeth.

Distibution

All the year round, alpacas live in herds, over a vast territory, covering northern Chile, northern Bolivia, Peruvian Andes and Ecuador. They are kept and pastured at the height of 3.500-5.000 meters (11.500-16.000 feet) above sea level. Currently, alpacas can be found all around the world, from USA to New Zealand, from Australia to Netherlands, due to their exportation from Latin America to other countries, started in 1980-s.

Alpaca habitat map

Habits and Lifestyle

Alpacas are diurnal and social animals. Alpha male is the leader of the herd. As a general rule, herds of alpacas are quite large, covering big territories. Alpha males, in turn, don’t refuse to render protection to a number of females and their young, taking them into the herd. However, once another male comes and overpowers the alpha male, he will straightway become the leader of the herd. And here’s where males start to rival, which brings to serious fights. This rivalries are usually accompanied with shrilly and harsh noises, made by alpha males, having a purpose of warning each other as well as scaring away other alpha males from the herd. The period of alpacas’ highest activity is sunrise and sunset. Especially the young: usually, at this time of day one can observe playful behavior and increased activity of youngsters.

Group name

Diet and Nutrition

Alpacas are herbivores (folivores). For its size, an alpaca eats much lesser than other animals. The diet of alpacas consists of hay, leaves, and, in general, they enjoy chewing on nearly everything.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
Year-round
PREGNANCY DURATION
242-345 days
BABY CARRYING
1 cria
INDEPENDENT AGE
6 months
FEMALE NAME
hembra
MALE NAME
macho
BABY NAME
cria

Alpacas are polygynous, i.e. one male can mate with a number of females. Alpacas mate at any time all around the year while gestation period lasts 242-345 days, after which a female gives birth to a single baby, though there have been known cases of twin births. Babies feed upon maternal milk for 6 months and are weaned earlier or later, depending on growth rate. Males reach sexual maturity at the age of 3 years while females are ready to mate much earlier, at the age of 1 year.

Population number

Presently, alpacas are not included in the IUCN Red List; the overall population is not endangered. This is partly due to human care as well as through not living in the wild. There are about 3.5 million individuals of alpacas around the world, 87% of which live in Peru and 9.5% - in Bolivia.

Ecological niche

Because of specific morphological characteristics, e.g. light weight and padded feet, these animals can’t thicken the soil or damage seedlings and sprouts in their home range. Furthermore, they eat native grasses and forbs present in the ecosystem of their habitat. On the other hand, due to the ability of enduring harsh extremes of temperature, alpacas help people overwinter.

Domestication

Domestication of Alpacas began 5.000 years ago. However, their popularity is only nowadays becoming internationally acknowledged. Alpacas played crucial role in Inca civilization and culture. Inca civilization originates from Andes Mountains in Latin America, where alpacas have always been highly valued. However, during the Spanish conquest of the region, alpacas became threatened with total extermination. Fortunately, they miraculously survived thanks to their key role and importance for inhabitants of the Ands and amazing ability to endure harsh temperature extremes, unlike all other domestic animals.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Alpaca’s wool is waterproof. Moreover, it can absorb moisture due to its surprising ability of simulating cotton in moisture recovery. Thanks to this, alpacas easily endure sharp temperature drops, their coat feeling lighter than wool while warmer than cotton.
  • Generally, there are two types of alpacas. These are suri alpacas and huacaya alpacas. Suri alpacas are covered with fiber that overgrows to form of dreadlocks. On the other hand, huacaya alpacas are covered with a shaggy, bushy and waved coat, just like a teddy-bear. Huacyas make up 90% of all alpacas of North America.
  • Llamas and alpacas are easily interbred, generating a species called huarizo.
  • Buzzing or humming sound is what you can usually hear of alpacas. It’s a kind of musical crooning. For alpacas, humming can serve as a signal of danger, curiosity, satisfaction, anxiety, fright, distress or just boredom.
  • As known, camels spit when they are angry or irritated while alpacas, being distant relatives of camels, do the same when upset.

References

1. Alpaca Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpaca

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