Alpaca Behaviour


Naturally Alpacas are social herd animals that live in family groups consisting of a territorial alpha male, females and their young. They are gentle, inquisitive, intelligent and observant. As they are prey for pumas, they are cautious and nervous if they feel threatened. They like having their own space and may not like an unfamiliar alpaca or human getting close, especially from behind. They warn the herd about intruders by making sharp, noisy sounds like a high pitch burro bray. The herd may attack smaller predators with their front feet, and can spit and kick. Due to the soft pads on their feet, the impact of a kick is not as dangerous as that of a hoofed animal, yet it still can give quite a bruise, and the pointed nails can inflict cuts.
Spitting Not all alpacas spit, but all are capable of doing so. "Spit" is somewhat euphemistic; occasionally the projectile contains only air and a little saliva as a sort of warning. But alpacas commonly bring up acidic stomach contents (generally a green grassy mix) and project it onto their chosen target. Spitting is mostly reserved for other alpacas, but an alpaca will occasionally spit at humans that want to shear them or give an injection. For alpacas, spitting results in what is called "sour mouth." Sour mouth is characterized by a loose-hanging lower lip and a gaping mouth. This is caused by the stomach acids and unpleasant taste of the contents as they pass out of the mouth. The hanging lower lip is also a sign of stress. Some alpacas will spit when looked at, others will never spit—their personalities are very individualized and there is no hard and fast rule in terms of social behaviour.
Physical contact Once they know their owners and feel confident around them, alpacas may allow their backs and necks to be touched. You can work with them and train them. They might learn to eat out of your hands. Alpacas do not like being grabbed. Once socialized well, some alpacas tolerate being stroked or petted anywhere on their bodies, although many do not like their feet, lower legs, and especially their abdomen touched or handled.  
If you need to catch an alpaca, the neck offers a good handle. Holding the neck from the rear with the animal's head under one's arm and leave the other hand firmly on the wrist, will make the alpaca stand still.
  Hygiene Usually alpacas control their internal parasites by having a communal dung pile, where they do not graze. In their natural habitat where food is scarce, that is a good method to protect their grazing areas. Unfortunately females tend to stand in a line and all go at once, that leads to extended dung piles. Alpacas love to roll in sand, very much so to annoy the shearer. But even if your paddock is lovely green grass, they will make themselves a sand pit.
Sounds Individuals vary, but Alpacas generally make a humming sound. Hums are often comfort noises, letting the other alpacas know they are present and content. The humming can take on many inflections and meanings, from questioning to a high-pitched, almost desperate, squealing when a mother is separated from her offspring. Alpacas make a variety of sounds. When they are in danger, they make a high-pitched, shrieking whine. Strange dogs can trigger this reaction. To signal friendly and/or submissive behaviour, alpacas "cluck," or "click". This is often accompanied by a flipping up of the tail over the back.
  When males fight they also scream, a warbling bird-like cry, presumably intended to terrify the opponent. Fighting determines dominance, and therefore the right to mate the females in the herd, and it is triggered by testosterone. This is why males are often kept in separate paddocks—when two dominant males get together, violent fights often occur. When males are pastured together, it is wise to trim down the large fang-like teeth used in fights, called "fighting teeth". Although alpacas may try to bite each other, they only have a bottom row of teeth, so damage is usually minimal. When fighting they will often tangle others necks and attempt to push each other around, but they settle down after a week, as they establish dominance. When alpacas breed, males make a similar noise called an "orgle". This is thought to possibly stimulate ovulation in the female.
Reproduction Females are "induced ovulators" which means that the act of mating and the presence of semen cause them to ovulate. Often females conceive after just one breeding. The coitus can last anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour. The males are dribble ejaculators and the semen is directly placed into the uterus. Artificial insemination is technically difficult because the act of breeding stimulates ovulation - but it is practiced in Australia. A male is usually ready to mate for the first time between one and three years of age. But only at the age of about 5 years the male is fully matured. A female alpaca may fully mature, physically and mentally between 12−24 months. It is not advisable to allow a young female to be bred before she is about 42 kg. Pregnancies last 11.5 months ± 2 weeks, and usually result in one single offspring called “cria”. Twins are rare, approximately 1/1000. When the female gives birth, she is generally receptive to breeding again after approximately two weeks. Crias may be weaned through human intervention at approximately 6 months and about 25 kg of weight. However, many breeders prefer to allow the female to decide when to wean her offspring. Offspring can be weaned earlier or later depending on their size, emotional maturity and weaning might be necessary if the mother has lost a lot of weight and condition. If the female is pregnant, it is recommended to wean the cria about 6 months before the new baby arrives. Alpacas generally live for up to 20 years and occasionally longer.