Meet the Camelids – Part Three
In my previous blogs I discussed the members of the camelid family: camels, vicunas and guanacos. Two other species belong to this tribe, alpacas and llamas.
Like vicunas and guanacos, alpacas and llamas are descendents of the Limini branch of the ancient camelids. While vicunas and guanacos are both wild tribes, the alpacas and llamas have long been domesticated. Alpacas were domesticated nearly seven thousand years ago, llamas shortly after, both in the Peruvian Andes. Originally it was thought that both alpacas and llamas were descendents of guanacos, however DNA evidence has shown that the ancestor of llamas is the guanaco, the ancestor of alpacas is the vicuna.
Llamas are used primarily as pack animals and there are three types of SouthAmerican llamas in existence today, the wooly type, the non-wooly type and an intermediate. While some llamas shed their wool, others have to be shorn and because their fiber tends not to be consistent, it has less of a commercial use. Frequently their fiber is blended with sheep wool.
Alpacas are smaller than llamas and are bred for their fiber. There are two types of alpaca, the Huacaya and the Suri. The huyaca or “ wooly “type is the most prominent, while only less than 10 percent is suri with long, sleek fibers. Processing in Peru includes sorting the fibers for natural color shades (22) and several quality grades. Nearly half the yield is graded as super fine. Each animal will produce 7-10 pounds of fleece per year.
Alpaca textiles are light-weight woven fabrics, stronger than sheep woolen fabrics with a silky luster. Frequently alpaca fibers are combined with manufactured fibers.