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Guanacos Camels Llamas Alpacas and Vicuñas: Camelidae

Alpaca (lama Pacos): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Alpacas reach 3 feet (.90 meters) high and weigh 154.3 pounds (70 kilograms). They have small heads, short, pointed ears, and extremely long necks. Except for the face and legs, the entire body is covered by long, thick, soft wool. Legs are short. Alpacas are generally a dark chocolate or near-black color, but the fibers used to make clothing come in twenty-two colors. Their coats are water repellant and protect them from solar radiation.

Young alpacas are called "cria." They usually nurse for five or six months. (Francisco Erize/Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Geographic range: Alpacas live in the Andes of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. They live in high altitudes ranging from 9,840 to 15,750 feet (3,000 to 4,800 meters).

Habitat: Alpacas prefer grasslands of the high plateaus of the Andes.

Diet: Alpacas feed on grasses, shrubs, and trees. The digestive system of an alpaca is highly efficient, which allows them to thrive on poor vegetation where other animals could not.

Behavior and reproduction: Alpacas are gentle, even-tempered animals. They are friendly and show little sign of aggression, a fact that makes them easy to domesticate and raise commercially.

Females mate for the first time around two years, males around three years. Pregnancy lasts 324 to 345 days and results in one offspring, called a cria. Cria nurse for five or six months. The average lifespan is twenty to twenty-five years. Primary predators of wild alpacas are pumas and foxes.

Alpacas and people: When Spanish explorers arrived in Peru, they found the Incan culture to be based on textiles. In an effort to conquer the native peoples, the explorers slaughtered 90 percent of the alpaca population. As the natives went into hiding or escaped, they took with them both sexes of alpacas, thereby keeping the species alive. Today alpacas are ranch-raised for their wool. Their friendly personalities and resistance to disease make them easy to care for.

Conservation status: Alpacas are not threatened. There are about 3.5 million alpacas in the world. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsGuanacos Camels Llamas Alpacas and Vicuñas: Camelidae - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Camelids And People, Conservation Status, Dromedary Camel (camelus Dromedarius): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT