If you’re ever traveling in South America, you might see something that looks like a moving mass of fluff darting up a slope. Don’t be startled. It’s just an alpaca!
Alpacas have been domesticated for thousands of years. Humans value them for their soft wool, which the Incas called “the fiber of the gods.” Alpaca wool can be turned into soft, warm fabrics that would have been very useful to people living at high altitudes in the Andes mountains.
Alpacas are still herded in the foothills of the Andes. Most alpacas live in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. They eat hay and grass, but they’ll try to eat anything. Within the herds, they live in family groups dominated by one male, plus females and babies. They are social animals and interact with each other frequently. They make different sounds to show anger, fear, and happiness, or to warn other alpacas of enemies. They will fight to defend their families. When they fight, they use their front feet—and they spit!
Alpacas are part of the Camelidae family, which includes camels and llamas, among other animals. Alpacas look very similar to small llamas. They are usually about 100-200 pounds and three feet high at the shoulder. That’s shorter than most human beings. They are different shades of white, black, brown, or gray. They may be solid or have spots of different colors. Their thick wool can make them look chubby, but when shorn you can see that they are thin and long legged. They have large features. They can often look like they are making kissing faces under their big eyes!
These interesting and unique animals have been part of human culture for thousands of years, and we’re still using them in the same ways today!