The Alpaca is a domesticated species of South American camelid. It resembles a small llama in superficial appearance.
Alpacas live in herds that graze on the level heights of the southern Peru at an altitude of 3500 to 5000 meters above sea level, throughout the year. Alpacas are considerably smaller than llamas, and unlike them are not used to carrying burden but are valued only for their fine fiber. Alpaca fiber is used to make knitted and woven items, much as sheep’s wool is. These items include blankets, sweaters, chullo hats, gloves, scarves, a wide variety of textiles and ponchos in Peru.
The fiber comes in more than 52 natural colors as classified in Peru. Alpacas and llamas differ in that alpacas have straight ears and llamas have banana-shaped ears.
Alpaca fleece is the natural fiber harvested from an Alpaca. It is a lightweight, soft, durable, luxurious and silky natural fiber. While similar to sheep’s wool in that it is a natural fiber, it is warmer, not prickly, and has no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. However, this lack of lanolin also prevents Alpaca fiber from being naturally water-repellent. It also has less crimp, thus making it much less elastic.
In physical structure, alpaca fiber is somewhat akin to hair, being very glossy, but its softness and fineness enable the spinner to produce satisfactory yarn with comparative ease. It is hollow as well, which makes it a good insulator.
Alpacas come in many shades from a true blue black through browns-black, browns, fawns, white, silver-grays, and rose-grays. However, white is predominant, because of selective breeding: the white fiber can be dyed in the largest ranges of colors. In Peru, the preference is for white as they generally have better fleece than the darker-colored animals