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10 Alpaca Facts about These Adorable Animals

One of the most notable alpaca facts is their gentle disposition. For thousands of years, these natives of the Andes and members of the camel family have lived in South America; their history of domestication dates back 5,000 to 7,000 years ago. 

Domesticated herds thrive on the vegetation growing in the Andes range. Mainly, they are pack animals and livestock used for alpaca meat.

Another notable alpaca fact is their three-stomach digestive system, enabling them to extract the most nutrients from scant food in high altitudes. Let's explore this list of alpaca facts to understand their lives and traits.

Did these facts about alpacas whet your appetite for more animal facts? Check out this list of animals whose names begin with "A!"

10 Alpaca Facts

alpaca chewing
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1. Alpacas are native to the Andes.

Wild alpacas are native to the mountain ranges of South America, spanning Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. Only two breeds of alpaca exist, the Huacaya breed and Suri breed. 

Experts believe that alpacas have existed in these 14,000-foot-tall mountains since 5000 BCE. Very few animals can survive the harsh conditions of the Andes. However, alpacas have evolved thick coats that warm them in high altitudes. Moreover, alpacas have evolved blood-rich hemoglobin for thousands of years, which lets them thrive in low-oxygen areas. Their feet also help them safely traverse the rugged, rocky terrain of the Andes.

Additionally, alpacas cause minimal environmental damage. Despite living in the Andes, mountains with steep slopes and delicate ecosystems, alpacas have soft footsteps that leave only a minimal environmental footprint.

2. Alpacas are gentle giants.

Despite their size, alpacas are gentle and non-aggressive. They stand three feet tall at the shoulder and weigh 100 to 200 lbs. However, their calm attitude creates harmony among their herds and human caretakers. 

As social animals, alpacas' mild temperament helps them coexist with other animals. They are curious, friendly, and crowd-pleasers, so they are a hit in petting zoos where children can interact with them. Even their defense mechanism of spitting is more like a stern warning than a legitimate attack. 

3. Alpacas have unique teeth.

alpacas on field
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Next on our alpaca facts list: Unlike most mammals, alpacas have unique dentition. Their lower incisors and the hard dental pad on their upper jaw help the animal rip plants off the ground and grind it into manageable tidbits for easy digestion. Moreover, their lower incisors continually grow and require regular trimming to stop overgrowth. 

4. Alpacas are effective therapy animals.

Alpacas bring peace and calmness to hospitals and retirement homes. These non-aggressive animals reduce stress and ease the loneliness of patients. They can also adapt to new environments and follow humans on a leash so that people can take them for a walk or a hike. 

The New York Times says Pet Partners, a prominent therapy organization, brought 20 llamas and alpacas into their team. How do alpacas help hospital patients? They are valuable bedside companions, particularly to people experiencing limited mobility. Their soothing nature provides a therapeutic effect on many individuals1.

Related read: Alpacas vs. Llamas.

5. Alpacas communicate by humming.

alpaca's side view
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Living in the Andes, alpacas have evolved a unique communication system involving humming. Their hums vary in pitch and strength, reflecting the alpaca's emotional state. For instance, mother alpacas use a specific hum for their babies, building a solid bond. Alpacas also hum to warn others of a potential threat through sudden changes in pitch or intensity.

6. Loneliness can be deadly to alpacas.

As natural herd animals, alpacas do not like being alone. Whether on farmland or in their natural habitats, a male or female alpaca rarely moves around independently. Without companions, they can get stressed, which can cause severe health issues. At worst, they can even die. 

Beyond their need for companionship, alpacas find comfort and security in a herd. Their social structure helps them maintain their mental and physical health. For example, if an alpaca lives alone for too long, it can get stressed and suffer weight loss, among other issues.

Even baby alpacas, or crias, do not leave their mothers' side until they turn six months old. So, this animal's need for companionship is instinctive; even a baby alpaca cannot live without it. 

7. Alpacas spit when threatened.

group of alpacas
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Another alpaca fact is that alpacas spit when they feel threatened. However, spitting is not only for self-defense but is also a part of their communication system. It also makes subtle signals before spitting; an alpaca flattens its ears or lifts its chin while waiting for the threat to disappear.

If the irritation continues, the animal bares its teeth. Moreover, female alpacas spit mainly to discourage male alpacas from making unwelcome advances. 

8. Alpacas are eco-friendly animals.

Compared to other hard-hoofed livestock, alpacas have soft padded feet, allowing them to navigate their environment without disturbing the ground, preserving soil health. On the other hand, hard hoofs damage farmland and cause soil degradation and erosion.

Moreover, alpacas have an efficient digestive system that lets them extract more nutrients from less food. As a result, caretakers don't need to build up a large-scale feed cultivation system, which eats up resources. Likewise, since alpacas don't consume much food, they release minimal methane, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

Alpacas also consume less water than other livestock, making them sustainable animals in places with a scarce water supply.

9. Alpaca fiber is flame- and water-resistant.

alpaca close up
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Besides its softness and warmth, alpaca fiber is precious due to its flame and water resistance, thanks to the natural substance lanolin. Alpacas secrete lanolin from their skin, which coats every strand of their coat, protecting the animal from dampness and humidity2.

When alpaca fiber burns, it burns slower than other textiles and may even go out independently. This protective quality has pushed the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to classify it as a Class 1 material.

Moreover, alpaca wool retains its protective qualities after repeated washing and regular use. It also undergoes stringent safety tests before people can use it for clothing and home furnishing.  

Related read: Sustainable and ethical fabrics.

10. Alpaca populations are growing

In the past, people in North America had to visit zoos to see alpacas. However, in 1984, importers brought a small alpaca herd to the United States and Canada. 

Since then, the North American alpaca population has grown to around 250,000 individual alpacas. Moreover, alpacas live in every U.S. state, with Ohio hosting the largest population.

What are your favorite alpaca facts? Share it on your social media feeds or click on over to our alpaca quotes for some inspiration, and tag us!

1

Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible role of oxytocin. Frontiers in psychology, 3, 234.

2

Lupton, C. J., McColl, A., & Stobart, R. H. (2006). Fiber characteristics of the Huacaya Alpaca. Small Ruminant Research, 64(3), 211–224. 

By Mike Gomez, BA.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Chinny Verana, BSc.

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