John & Susan Merrell
41390 Hwy 226
Scio, OR 97374
503-551-7219 (cell)
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Prehistoric Camelids

Alpacas and llamas are members of the camelid family of mammals.  The paleontogical record indicates that camelids first appeared on the North American continent during the Eocene epoch, which ended approximately 33 million years ago.

There is a fascinating fossil record of camelids across most of North America, from Florida to southern California to Oregon and to Alberta, Canada.

One of the oldest camelid fossils ever found, an almost complete skeleton, was discovered in Florida.  This skeleton is strikingly similar to those of today's alpacas and llamas.

La Brea CamelidThe La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles, California have also produced fossil skeletons of camelids that are very similar to today's alpacas and llamas, and the John Day fossil beds have produced camelid fossils, including a striking skull displaying the same teeth seen in our alpaca herds.

Perhaps most one of the more amazing fossils found in North America are perfectly preserved footprints seen in the Fish Creek Canyon of the Anza- Borrego Desert State Park in California.  These fossil footprints are virtually indistinguishable from modern alpaca footprints!

Fossil Camelid FootprintThe fossil record indicates that there were once over 20 different species of camelids ranging in height from 3 feet ot over 13 feet.  Today only 6 species remain - alpacas, llamas, guanaco and vicuna in the New World, and Bactrian and Dromedary camels in the Old World.

Theorists speculate that camelids migrated from North America to the Old World via the Bering land bridge, and to South America over the Panamanian isthmus prior to becoming extinct in North America.

Today the herds of alpacas in North America are a sign that camelids are returning to their original home.

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"Manufactures from their hair more resemble silk than woolen stuffs, and some of those made of the Alpaca fleece, are quite black, without having been dyed. It has been a matter of surprise to many, that they are not naturalized in this country, as the climate would not be an obstacle to success. The demand, however, for their produce so much, increases, that it is very probable they may at some future time become denizens of our mountainous districts..."

R. Lee
Anecdotes of the Habits and Instinct of Animals (1852)
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