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Huacaya                                                                                Suri

















There are two types of alpaca - huacaya (with crimpy sheep-like “wool”) and suri (with silky dreadlocks).  Huacaya are seen more often than suri and probably make up more than 90% of the alpaca population worldwide.  This may be because they are hardier in the harsh mountain climates of Peru and Chile than the suri whose silky fleece offers less protection from the cold.

The fleece, whilst resembling sheeps' wool to some extent, is actually softer and less prickly than wool.  This is because the individual fibres have less scales than the fibres in wool.  Alpaca is also less greasy than sheeps' wool.  Crimp is desirable in a huacaya fleece, unlike suri which has virtually no crimp.  Alpaca fibre is ideal for people who are allergic to sheeps' wool as it seems to cause few allergy problems.

The alpaca originates from Peru, Chile and Bolivia, and is closely related to the llama, vicuna and guanaco.  These animals collectively are "camelids", members of the camel family.  In Chile they are farmed mostly by peasant farmers and supply much of the family's needs for clothing and food.  Predominantly in Chile they are coloured and all the natural colours are still seen there.  In Peru there has been a conscious effort to breed for quality, and for white - which makes the fibre easy to market.  Therefore, the better quality animals tend to come from Peru but are mostly white, while Chile still has colour but of a lower quality.  Our challenge is to breed quality into the coloured animals - or the reverse, to breed colour back into the quality animals.


Suri are much rarer than huacaya, estimated to make up between 6 and 10% of the alpaca population.  The suri is probably rarer because it is less hardy in the harsh South American mountain climates.  The style of its fleece offers less insulation against the cold - the suri fleece parts along the spine, exposing the animal to the cold unlike the huacaya fleece which provides excellent cover over the backbone.

Most suri in Peru are white in colour.  This is because many years ago the Peruvians decided to breed for a white commercial fleece market, so the other colours died out or were culled.  The quality of the white suri fleece was improved by selective breeding, and when the Peruvian government allowed Peru to export alpacas most exported animals were therefore white.

Estimates vary, but it is reckoned that coloured suri make up only around 6% of the world suri population.  Coloured suri are therefore quite rare.

A few years ago it was discovered that just one gene controls the fleece type, and that the suri gene is dominant over the huacaya gene.  If the animal carries the suri gene it will therefore present itself as a  suri, even if it is also carrying a recessive huacaya gene. These are known as heterozygous suris, in other words, they are heterozygous for the suri gene. 

If a suri alpaca has inherited a copy of the suri gene from both parents it will be homozygous for the suri gene.  If an alpaca is homozygous for the suri gene all its progeny will be suri, regardless of whether the other parent is suri or huacaya.