A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

June 17, 2007

So Why Do Alpacas Have Long Necks?

Filed under: alpaca, Alpacas, camelids, General — alpacalady @ 7:06 am

Maya Eating LeavesSomeone asked me that question once and at that time I did not have an answer.  Why indeed have alpacas evolved to have such long necks?

One suggestion I received was that if their necks were shorter they would not be able to reach the ground to graze.  Well that seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse, as the long legs of the alpaca surely developed because of the alpaca’s need for a long neck.  Look at sheep, they graze quite happily and they can reach the ground to do so but only because their neck and legs have evolved to allow them to.

To try and answer the neck question I started to think of other mammals that have long necks.  All the members of the camelid family (camel, guanaco, vicuna, llama and alpaca) do.  The camel definitely carries it neck a bit different from the rest of the camelid family, but still it has quite a long neck.  Giraffes of course are famous for their long necks but they belong to the Giraffidae family which is apparently related to the Bovidae family which includes cattle, goats, sheep and antelope.

Now I did have someone once tell me that alpacas smell a little like antelope and if you watch an antelope prong and an alpaca prong you start to wonder how far back in the family tree you need to go to discover that antelope and alpacas are related.

An idea for the answer to the long neck question came to me one day when we let the girls out onto the winter wheat.  It was something I had seen before but it just struck me that day as being a possible answer. 

You see whenever we let the alpacas out, they first of all kick their heels up in joy and then next they do is ………………….. run over and starting reaching up to eat the leaves off the trees.  The alpacas and llamas LOVE to eat the leaves off trees, in fact one evening when we were putting out hay I decided to bring some storm damaged branches into the pasture and the alpacas left the hay and made a bee line to the branches to eat the leaves.

So it seems to me that while alpacas are typically seen grazing grass these days somewhere in their past they were really tree leaf eaters and that is why they developed the long neck and long legs.  It makes sense to me – what do you think?


1 Comment »

  1. Indeed this could be an answer to the question. IF we look back and ask ourselves why did they evolve this way, environmental pressure may have played a large part in their evolution. Llama,alpacas and other members we kept by the Incas up till the Spanish invasion (1832??) The Incas lives in the Andes and if the members of the camelid family did indeed evolve in parts such as these, grass may have been scarce due to harsh conditions eg. snow, which covered and killed the grass. Trees which were less affected by these conditions may have had leaves which the alpacas ate to survive the winter. Just a thought! 🙂

    Comment by Simon — October 1, 2011 @ 2:50 am

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