Fiber Spotlight > Alpaca
The alpaca is a camelid, meaning related
to the camel. Other camelids include llamas, vicunas and guanachos. Based on paleon-
tological evidence, it is believed that camelids originated in North America. Yet, all camelids found in North America today were introduced through importations from South America. (The camel is found in Africa and Asia.)
Alpacas were first imported into the United States in 1984 with the intent of producing another livestock option. Until then, this animal was found only in zoos. Over the next 14 years, ten importations occurred. The first was from Chile, the next two from Bolivia and the final seven from Peru. Today, nearly 150,000 alpacas are US-registered by over 4000 farms and breeders. The Carolinas are home to almost 100 farms and breeders with close to 1000 registered animals.
Smaller than llamas, alpacas stand about three feet at the withers and, thanks to a long, graceful neck, about four and a half feet at the head. Adults may weigh 150—200 pounds. Alpacas have three stomachs as do other camelids. Do they spit? Yes, but spitting is usually reserved for other alpacas.
There are two alpaca breeds—Suri (sur•ree) and Huacaya (wha•ky•ya). Suri fleece is silky and resembles pencil-like locks that may touch the ground. Huacaya is shorter, denser and has a crimpy, wooly appearance.
Both types of alpacas provide fiber that is lustrous, warm and lightweight. Unlike wool, alpaca fiber contains no lanolin, making it hypoallergenic. With 22 natural colors, alpaca is a luxurious favorite in the fiber arts world for spinning, knitting, crochet, weaving and felting.
Meet some alpacas and folks who raise [love] them: