5 Things You Didn't Know About Alpacas

August 11, 2018

5 Things You Didn't Know About Alpacas

Having called the Andes region spread across the countries of Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru home for thousands of years, alpacas are the woollier, softer, smaller cousin of the llama, and are the beautiful animals whose fleece is used to make many different styles of warm, luxurious clothing.

Alpaca wool is used in many of our beyondBeanie products here in Bolivia, and is often a premium trademark of clothing produced in this part of the world. But while most people can instantly recognize an alpaca based on it's quirky appearance, there is far more to these unique creatures than meets the eye.

Here are 5 rather incredible things that you probably didn't know about alpacas... 

1. Lovers of the high life

Generally kept in semi-domesticated herds by farmers in small villages and country areas away from major cities, alpacas spend most of their days grazing the pastures of the Andes. This grazing, however, is done at incredible heights.

Throughout the year, the regular altitude at which alpacas graze (and live in general) is an incredible 3,500 m (11,500 ft) to 5,000 m (16,000 ft) above sea level. Some species, however, have even been found as high up as en eye-watering 5,800 m (19,000 ft), making the alpaca one of the highest living animals in the world.

Imagine the views from up there!

2. Sound the Alpaca

Alpacas make an incredible variety of sounds to communicate their thoughts and feelings towards each other. Always very cautious about their surroundings, these sounds can often be triggered by almost anything.

Let's discover some of the alpacas' audio talents now...

  • Humming: When alpacas are born, the mother and its child hum constantly. Humming can also be a sign of distress, especially when an individual is separated from it's herd.
  • Snorting: Alpacas snort when another alpaca is invading it's space.
  • Grumbling: Also sounding a little like gurgling, alpacas often grumble in addition to snorting to warn another alpaca they are invading personal space. 
  • Clucking: Similar to that of a regular hen, alpacas cluck when a mother is concerned for her baby or another juvenile alpaca.
  • Screeching: A bird-like cry intended to terrify an opponent. Typically used by a male alpaca when it is in a fight with another. 
  • Screaming: Extremely deafening and loud, alpacas will scream either when they are not handled correctly, or when they are being attacked by a potential enemy.

3. A 'spitting' image

Not one of the their most adorable traits it's fair to say, alpacas may spit at each other for a number of reasons. A female alpaca spits when she's not interested in a male alpaca, while both genders spit to keep others away from their food or anything else they may have their eyes on. Spitting is mostly reserved for other alpacas, but they will also occasionally spit at humans too!

Generally the projectile contains only air and a little saliva, although alpacas sometimes bring up green, grassy stomach acid contents and project it onto their chosen targets. Alpacas can spit up to ten feet in distance if need be, and if the other animal does not back down, they can throw up their entire stomach contents and project this at their opponent. Not sure I'd want to be on the receiving end of that!

4. Alpacas bodyguards anyone?

While alpacas are gentle, intelligent and extremely observant animals, they harbor a natural, in-built aggression towards members of the canid family including coyotes, foxes and wild dogs. And what better way to put this natural aggression to good use than to employ alpacas as guard llamas. Yes, this is a real thing.

Despite the animal being referred to in the title, a guard llama is the name given to any llama, alpaca, guanaco or similar hybrid used in farming to protect sheep, goats, hens or other livestock from the likes of coyotes, foxes, dogs and similar predators. Not every alpaca will guard, but of those that do, single, unbred females make for both the safest and most effective guardians.

Guard llamas defend against predators in many ways. Llamas and alpacas are instinctively alert and aware of their surroundings, and may draw attention to an intruder by making a startling alarm call. They may walk or run toward an intruder, chasing and kicking it, and have even been known to kill predators such as coyotes. 

5. Worth their weight in wool

Whether used for their amazing wool, kept as domesticated pets, used for farm and livestock protection as mentioned above, or even bred for consumption (good quality alpaca meat can fetch great prices in restaurants all over the world), alpacas are true, multi-purpose animals. And they come with true, multi-purpose price tags to match.

There are pet/fiber quality alpacas that can be sold for as little as $300. These generally will not have registration papers and/or be neutered. The median price for a standard male alpaca is in the range of $5,000, while a very good quality male can fetch up to $15,000. Often two or three breeders will purchase a good quality male together and share the expenses as well as the use of the male. 

These numbers, however, scale in comparison to the most expensive alpacas ever sold. The most expensive female alpaca sold at auction for $180,000 and the most expensive male for a whopping $675,000! An alpacas bloodline, show history, quality of wool produced and ability to generate breeding fees in the future are all considered when establishing a sale price.

I think it's fair to say that all of these things were well in order when these alpacas were sold! 

Written by Steve Connors

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