Saturday, April 28, 2018

Camelid Fibers Part Two

Meet the Camelids –Part two

In Meet the Camelids (part one – 4-15-18) I discussed the origins of members of the camelid family, namely old world camelids, bactrian and dromedary camels who are descended from a tribe of North American animals, the Camelini.  These animals migrated to Asia across the Bering Land Bridge and became the camels of Asia and Africa.

Today I wish to present the second tribe of the now extinct North American camelids, the Lamini.  This tribe was to become the South American camelids, vicuna, guanaco, llama and alpacas.  The original ancestor Limini gave rise to two independent and distinct populations, both wild: Vicunas and Guancos.

Vicunas, the smallest of the camelids, arrived in South America nearly two million years ago on the altoplano of the Andes mountains.  When the European invasion of South America occurred it was estimated that there was nearly 2 million vicunas, however, over the ensuing years the population dwindled to nearly extinction due to hunting.  The down of the animals is amongst the most expensive in the world and was a forbidden export for international trading.  Now due to the efforts of Peru, Argentina and Bolivia and Chile the numbers have increased to the extent that natives of the Andes are allowed to hand gather the wool and export it legally.  There is some farming of the animals taking place in Argentina, while other countries depend upon gathering the wool from flocks in the wild.  It is possible for vicunas to breed with South American alpacas producing Paco-Vicuna.  This is rare and is not permitted to happen (if it can be avoided) by those wishing to keep the vicuna breed pure and from further extinction.  Since it is thought alpacas are descended from vicunas there has been DNA research to find animals that are alpacas but with vicuna traits.  Since vicunas cannot be exported these animals are being bred instead in North America..  These are also called Paco-Vicunas but are , in reality specially bred alpacas.

Vicunas are the smallest of the camelids with brown body and white bib and underbelly

Guanacos live in the high plains of Chile and Argentina and to a lesser degree in the mountain regions of Equador, Bolivia and Peru.  As with the vicunas they suffered from the Spanish emigration, now numbering around 400,000-600,000.  Although they are considered wild, they are easily tamed and can be found in US zoos and private farms.  They are double-coated, like llamas with soft downy undercoats.  Their fiber, while sparse, is secondary in fineness to vicuna.

Guanacos are the size of a medium llama with brown coats and white underbellies and gray faces.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Camelid Fibers

Meet the Camelids

The Camelid family originated in North America around 50 million years ago, and one would have thought that camels and their relatives came from Asia or Africa!

Over the years the camelid family branched into two main groups, known as tribes.  One tribe, the Lamini, gave rise to New World camels, which migrated to South America.  The original Lamini tribe became extinct in North America nearly 12,000 years ago and we see their South American descendants as alpacas, llamas, guanacos, and vicunas.  The second main tribe, known as the Camelini (Old World camels) migrated to Asia across the Bering Land Bridge and became the Bactrian and Dromedary camels of Asia and Africa.

Of interest to us textile folks are the camelid fibers, each unique.  Today we will look at camels.

The Bactrian ( 2 humped ) camel perhaps originated in Afghanistan which was called Bactria in ancient times.  Its tan to dark brown hair, as long as 10 inches in length, is shed once a year.  There are both domesticated and wild Bactrian camels, although the wild population is considered engangered.  There are differences between domesticated and wild Bactrians, including some differences in their DNA.

The Dromedary camels (single-humped) are adapted to hot climates and can survive for long periods without water.  However, they produce less useable fiber than Bactrian, although Arvana dromedaries can produce up to 7 pounds of fluff.  The wild dromedaries are extinct so that all dromedaries are domesticated.  In Australia there are large herds that have gone feral, their domesticated parents were brought to Australia in the late 1800’s to access desert areas.

Camels are double-coated.  The coarse hair is very strong and suitably used for ropes, halters etc.  The undercoats are down that can be gathered by hand in the spring or by combing.  The Wool Products Labeling Act classifies camel hair as wool.  It is usually combined with other wool fibers.  Fabric called camel hair is often a twill weave with a deep nap ( or may have a flat finish) and is very soft with a luxurious draping quality.

Some camel friends I met in Morocco