About suri alpacas

Alpacas are New World camelids that were developed from wild vicuña thousands of years ago by the ancient peoples of the South American altiplano. While their cousins the llama were developed as pack animals, alpacas were specifically created to bear soft, warm fiber, and lots of it.

Inca suri alpaca figurine

There are two types of alpaca: suri and huacaya. Suri alpacas have fiber that drapes down their bodies in flowing locks that are cool to the hand. The fiber is coveted by the fashion industry and cherished by the hand spinner. It can be similar in softness to cashmere, but has a blinding luster all its own. Suri fiber is warm, lightweight and blends well with wool or other fine fibers, including silk. The yarn can be knit, crocheted or woven, and yields silky fabrics with drape and brilliance. Suri fiber does not have memory, however, making it unsuitable for many knit garments unless blended with another fiber (such as huacaya alpaca). Unblended, suri is similar to silk, and it is often used in high fashion garments. Suri alpacas come in a dizzying array of natural colors, and the fiber also accepts dye well. With suri fiber, the possibilities are endless.

The ancient Inca considered the suri alpacas to be royal property.  Commoners daring to wear suri fabric were sentenced to death.  These treasured animals were targeted for extermination by the Spanish conquistadores during their conquest of the Inca peoples, and the suri alpaca nearly vanished. Thankfully, remnant populations persisted high in the forbidding Peruvian altiplano. Given this elite heritage, suri alpacas have always been much more rare than huacaya.   But their popularity is growing in modern times,  and although they comprise only 3% of the world herd, almost 10% of North American alpacas are suris. Interestingly, the suri coat type is thought to be a dominant trait, despite the relative rarity of the breed.

Lindy, a suri alpaca

The more common huacaya have fine, dense fiber growing straight out from their bodies. The fiber looks corrugated up close – this is called crimp. Huacaya fiber is similar to wool in use, but it is typically softer and warmer by weight, and most people can wear it next to their skin. Huacaya fiber is perfect for socks, sweaters and similar clothing.

Foreman, a huacaya alpaca

Both types of alpacas in the United States are registered with the Alpaca Registry (ARI), and all parentage is verified by DNA testing of parents and progeny. No alpacas may be imported into the United States, although they are exported on a regular basis to other countries where alpacas are gaining in popularity – and where the North American breeding program is recognized as superior. The alpaca industry as a whole is represented by the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA), while suri owners also benefit from the extensive efforts of the Suri Network to promote and preserve the suri alpaca breed. Only the suri alpaca has a breed standard.

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