From Academic Kids

Conservation status: Secure
Scientific classification
Binomial name
Lama pacos
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The Alpaca is one of two domesticated breeds of South American camel-like ungulates, derived from the wild guanaco. It resembles a sheep in appearance, but is larger in size, and has a long erect neck with a handsome head.

Alpacas are kept in large flocks which graze on the level heights of the Andes of southern Peru, northern Bolivia, and northern Chile at an altitude of between 3500 and 5000 meters above sea-level, throughout the year. They are not used as beasts of burden like llamas, but are valued only for their fiber, of which Indian blankets and ponchos are made. The alpaca comes in more than 16 natural colours (see a color chart in the External links) section. In stature, the alpaca (Lama huanacos pacos) is considerably inferior to the llama, but has the same unpleasant habit of spitting.

In the textile industry, "alpaca" is a name given to two distinct things. It is primarily a term applied to the wool, or rather hair, obtained from the Peruvian alpaca. It is, however, more broadly applied to a style of fabric originally made from alpaca fiber but now frequently made from a similar type of fiber, such as mohair, Icelandic sheep wool, or even some high-quality English wool. In trade, distinctions are made between alpacas and the several styles of mohairs and lustres. However, as far as the general purchaser is concerned, little or no distinction is made.

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The four species of indigenous South American fiber-bearing animals are the llama, the alpaca, the guanaco and the vicuna. The llama and the alpaca are domesticated; the guanaco and the vicuna run wild. Of the four, the alpaca and the vicuna are the most valuable wool-bearing animals: the alpaca because of the quality and quantity of its wool, and the vicuna because of the softness, fineness and quality of its coat. At the beginning of the 19th century, the usual length of alpaca staples appears to have been about 12 inches (305 mm) -- equivalent to three year's growth. However, nowadays the length is little more than about half of this -- one to two year's growth -- although from time to time, longer staples can be found. The fleeces are sorted by colour and quality by skilled native women. The colour of the greater proportion of alpaca imported into the United Kingdom is black and brown, but there is also a fair proportion of white, grey and fawn. It is customary to mix these colours together, thus producing a curious ginger-coloured yarn, which upon being dyed black in the piece takes a fuller and deeper shade than can be obtained by piece-dyeing a solid-coloured wool.

In physical structure, alpaca is somewhat akin to hair, being very glossy, but its softness and fineness enable the spinner to produce satisfactory yarns with comparative ease.


Alpaca fiber industry

The history of the manufacture of this fiber into cloth is one of the romances of commerce. The Indians of Peru used this fibre in the manufacture of many styles of fabrics for centuries before its introduction into Europe as a commercial product. The first European importations were into Spain. Spain transferred the fibre to Germany and France. Apparently alpaca yarn was spun in England for the first time about the year 1808. It does not appear to have made any headway, however, and alpaca fiber was condemned as an unworkable material. In 1830 Benjamin Outram, of Greetland, near Halifax, appears to have reattempted the spinning of this fibre, and, for the second time, alpaca was condemned. These two attempts to use alpaca were failures owing to the style of fabric into which the yarn was woven &mdash -- a species of camlet. It was not until the introduction of cotton warps into the Bradford trade about 1836 that the true qualities of alpaca could be developed in the fabric. Where the cotton warp and mohair or alpaca weft plain-cloth came from is not known, but it was this simple yet ingenious structure which enabled Titus Salt, then a young Bradford manufacturer, to utilize alpaca successfully. Bradford is still the great spinning and manufacturing centre for alpaca, large quantities of yarns and cloths being exported annually to the continent and to the United States, although the quantities naturally vary in accordance with the fashions in vogue, the typical "alpaca-fabric" being a very characteristic "dress-fabric."

Owing to the success in the manufacture of the various styles of alpaca cloths attained by Sir Titus Salt and other Bradford manufacturers, a great demand for alpaca wool arose, and this demand could not be met by the native product, for there seems to never have been any appreciable increase in the number of alpacas available. Unsuccessful attempts were made to acclimatize the alpaca in England, on the European continent and in Australia, and even to cross certain English breeds of sheep with the alpaca. There is, however, a cross between the alpaca and the llama -- a true hybrid in every sense -- producing a material placed upon the Liverpool market under the name "Huarizo". Crosses between the alpaca and vicuna have not proved satisfactory. Current attempts to cross these two breeds are underway at farms in the United States.

The preparing, combing, spinning, weaving and finishing process of alpaca and mohair are similar to that of wool.

Farmers commonly quote the alpaca with the phrase 'love is in the fleece', which describes their love for this wonderful animal.

The price for alpacas can range from $200 to $360,000, depending on breeding history, sex, and color. One can raise up to 10 alpacas on one acre (4,000 m²) as they have a designated area for waste products and keep their eating area away from their waste area to avoid diseases.


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