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Does Depth of Color Affect the Expression of Other Fleece Traits?

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We ask the question above as a short lead-in to an only slightly longer – but quite interesting – look at the possible connection between the depth of color of an animal’s fleece and the curvature of the fibers in that fleece, discussed in our library article on this topic.    Our curiosity about this was stimulated by analysis of the amount of pigment present in the fiber of different colored alpacas that was published in Kylie Munyard’s 2011 paper, “Inheritance of White Colour in Alpacas”, which, as we have noted before, has quite a bit to say about the likely genotypic characteristics of colored alpacas as well.

Those of you who breed for dark browns and blacks, or who process dark-colored alpaca, will be well aware that these fleeces are quite different than otherwise similarly fine and uniform white and light fleeces in particular.  The yarns we make from fine dark fleeces are equally sumptuous but denser, silkier, and often notably bright.  They are suitable for different types of end products than those we produce with elite light fiber.  And, as the analysis in our library article suggests, it seems likely that these dark fleeces are different at least in part because the comparatively large amount of pigment in the hair affects how much curvature – a measure that correlates with crimp frequency, as well as memory in yarn or knitwear – is expressed in the fleece.  

If true, this is more than a interesting bit of trivia.  For one, it means that we need to consider carefully what an “advanced” or ideal dark colored fleece should look like with regard to character.    Breeding for finely crimped dark animals may well mean selecting against the total amount of pigment present in the fiber, which may or may not be readily visible to the unaided eye in some instances, but may have implications for the underlying genotypes, or other characteristics of the fiber and its performance.  And that brings up a second, broader question, which is whether the amount of pigment in fiber, or the processes associated with its creation and presence, could affect the expression other fleece traits.   While we wait for these questions to be answered with further research, it’s probably good to hold onto the idea that breeding for elite dark-colored animals may well produce fleeces that have very different visual and performance characteristics than lights, but are equally elite, appealing, and valuable.

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