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10:41 p.m. - 2006-07-01
Phish's Favorite Creature?
Greetings, Animal Amigos!

I hope you are all well, and perhaps lounging at a cabin or campsite for the holiday weekend!

The critter sightings have been multitudinous; R reports bunny and turtle-laying-eggs sightings. Yesterday I spotted a hawk, a marmot, and a bunny (fully reclining in the heat) all within an hour. D reported that the squirrels and rabbits basically overran St. Louis during his stay there. He said, "All day long you'd see squirrels everywhere, and then at night they all changed to rabbits." Of course I pictured the squirrels just *poof* BECOMING rabbits when the clock struck 8 or something!

I'm happy to welcome D back to MN, as well.

Now, last summer, I advised all of you to quit your jobs if you could not spy on voles. Unfortunately, I can't echo that sentiment THIS summer as I think the voles have moved. But as previously mentioned, my new temp job involves many a creature sighting, including the cutest and fuzziest of all farm animals, the llama! So this year I will state you must quit your jobs if you can't see camelids on the regular.

I knew I had to write about these guys as soon as I saw them at the animal hospital, and this idea was cemented by the "shuffle" feature on my iPod. Two Phish songs came up, "Camel Walk" and "Llama". Folks, it was destiny.

Hence, a write up featuring the New World Camelids! These include the alpaca, llama, guanaco and vicuna. Omitted are the Old World Camelidae, the larger bactrian and arabian camels.

Apparently camel ancestors crossed over the Aleutian land bridge, and traveled down to South America. There these ancients flourished, developing shorter legs to navigate rocky areas. Meanwhile, the North American species died out.

New World camels are considered ruminants (cud-chewers), like sheep, cows, deer, goats and antelope. However, they process their food with three stomach chambers instead of four. These South American species are very efficient in their digestion, and therefore are cheaper to feed than sheep, for example.

Camels have soft padded feet, and a lack of horns or antlers. They also possess red blood cells that are special in two ways; first, they are oval shaped, and secondly, they survive up to 235 days, compared to the 100 days a human's blood cells live.

It seems there is some controversy about the genesis of South American camelids. Most scientists believe that guanaco (Lama guanacoe) and vicuna (Vicugna vicugna) are the original species, and that the ancient Incans selectively bred these to create the llama and alpaca species. So the llama (Lama glama) is descended from the guanaco, and the alpaca (Lama pacos) from the vicuna.

I'm going to just post some facts underneath each of these cute pictures!

The guanaco, from

*Five feet tall
*Around 200 lbs
*Live in N. Peru to S. Patagonia
*Enjoy altitudes above 12,000 ft.
*Can run 40 mph
*Double layered fur; coarse on top, fuzzy underneath

The vicuna, from

*The smallest S.A. camelid - 90 lbs
*Enjoy altitudes above 14,000 ft.
*Four feet tall
*Very social together, shy around people
*Domesticated by monks
*Very soft fur fibers

The llama, from

*The largest S.A. camelid - 300 lbs
*Work animals
*Very intelligent and curious
*Domesticated 5,000 years ago by Incas!
*Q'ara is "bald" variety; "Ch'aku" is wooly

And finally the alpaca! Pic from

*Finest wool, 22 colors possible
*Prefers altitudes of 13,000 to 16,000 ft
*100 to 175 lbs
*hair will grow to the ground if not trimmed
*suri variety has smooth hair
*huacaya variety has crimped hair

And general South American Camelid nooky facts: They're "induced ovulators", which means intercourse occurs, and THEN an egg is released. This is convenient for breeders, as they can control when the camels get pregnant. Unlike most animals, llamas (& company) mate lying down, and intercourse lasts 20 to 45 minutes. The gestation period is long, about 11 to 11.5 months. Babies are called cria! The mommas nuzzle and croon to the cria, but can't lick them off like other livestock, as their tongues aren't long enough! A tender pic from Cris Jennings:

So cute! I hope you've learned a little about llamas, alpacas, guanaco and vicuna. Maybe R and I should register for a pet alpaca for our wedding?



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