An alpaca having her hair cut at Cherryburn, Northumberland.
The Alpaca (Vicugna pacos) is a species of South American camelid, similar to, and often confused with the llama. However, alpacas are often noticeably smaller than llamas. The two animals are closely related, and can successfully cross-breed. Alpacas and llamas are also closely related to the Vicuña, which is believed to be the alpaca’s wild ancestor, and to the Guanaco. There are two breeds of Alpaca: the Suri alpacaand the Huacaya alpaca.
Alpacas are kept in herds that graze on the level heights of the Andes of Southern Peru, Western Bolivia, Ecuador, and Northern Chile at an altitude of 3,500 m (11,500 ft) to 5,000 m (16,000 ft) above sea level, throughout the year. Alpacas are considerably smaller than llamas, and unlike llamas, they were not bred to be working animal, but are bred specifically for their fiber. Alpaca fiber is used for making knitted and woven items, similar to wool. These items include blankets, sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, a wide variety of textiles and ponchos in South America, and sweaters, socks, coats and bedding in other parts of the world. The fiber comes in more than 52 natural colors as classified in Peru, 12 as classified in Australia and 16 as classified in the United States.
Alpacas communicate through body language. The most common is spitting when they are in distress, fearful, or mean to show dominance. Male alpacas are more aggressive than females, and tend to establish dominance of their herd group. In some cases, alpha males will immobilize the head and neck of a weaker or challenging male in order to show their strength and dominance.
In Textile industry, “alpaca” primarily refers to the hair of Peruvian Alpacas, but more broadly it refers to a style of fabric originally made from alpaca hair, such as mohair, Icelandic sheep wool, or even high-quality wool. In trade, distinctions are made between alpacas and the several styles of mohair and luster.
An adult alpaca generally is between 81–99 centimetres (32–39 in) in height at the shoulders (withers). They usually weigh between 48–84 kilograms (106–185 lb).