A Study on…Alpacas!

I admit that I didn’t really start to appreciate alpacas until I was in a yarn store one day and came across skeins of alpaca wool. Baby alpaca wool, to be exact. So soft! So lovely! I could easily blow wads of cash on that stuff.

I splurged at least a couple of times on alpaca wool and ended up making two of my most favourite scarves:

Besides their amazing wool, I think alpacas are downright adorable. They just fill me with happy. Their gentle demeanour, their huge eyes… They’re like big Muppets.

But I also wonder what goes on in that brain of theirs.

Image courtesy of dreamlandalpacas.com

(Image courtesy of dreamlandalpacas.com)

Lo and behold, in the recent issue of the journal Animal Cognition, there is a published study on alpacas!

The research looked at the phenomenon of spatial perseveration errors: a fancy term for the tendency of an animal to stick to a learned route when another route is available. If an animal chooses a new, available route, this suggests that the animal has a degree of cognitive flexibility.

The authors gave alpacas the task of entering a fenced-in enclosure with a barrier across the middle. On either the left or right far side of the barrier was a gap. If the alpaca went through the gap, it encountered a jackpot in the form of a feeder filled with alfalfa. There were 51 alpacas who participated in this study, and some had to go through the gap one, two, three, or four times, before the gap was moved to the opposite end of the barrier. For the test, the authors watched to see if the alpacas headed toward where the original gap used to be, or whether the alpacas moved in the direction toward the new location of the gap.

It turns out the alpacas were able to solve the task: they moved toward the new gap significantly more often than chance. What is particularly interesting is that the alpacas performed better than horses, donkeys, mules, and even dogs, when they were all given a similar task.

Does this mean alpacas are smarter than dogs? Well, no. It means that alpacas showed a little more cognitive flexibility in a particular task. That is, they show some degree of adaptable problem solving ability. Which also means that there’s a lot more to alpacas than simply being animals that stand around looking cute while their wool is being harvested for human use.

I wonder what other surprises alpacas have hidden in that brain of theirs?

Reference

Abramson, J. Z., Soto, D. P., Zapata, S. B., & Lloreda, M. V. H. (2018). Spatial perseveration error by alpacas (Vicugna pacos) in an A-not-B detour task. Animal Cognition, 21(3), 433-439.

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I cannot resist the alpaca…

Sometimes I just need to visit a yarn store to wander, soak up all the colours, to touch the textures… It calms my mind. It sort of floats in a pleasant space, going back and forth between serenity and a happy jumble of ethereal, half-baked ideas.

Then I come across alpaca yarn. So soft! The colours! And it’s so nice to work with. And hey, who doesn’t like alpacas? 

I didn’t intend to buy anything. But then I saw the alpaca yarns and I literatlly stood there for 15 minutes trying to decide on a skein. 

I finally chose this one. Reminds me of fall and apples. And it’s soft! So soft… 

My wallet is whimpering a little bit, but my eyes and fingers are thankful.

A quiet house

It’s 11:30 p.m. Way past my bedtime! But everyone else is asleep and the house is so quiet…invitingly quiet. Even the dishwasher is silent.

I make myself some tea and buttered raisin toast. 

What the heck, two slices.

I knit a bit, write a bit. I savour the quiet and peace and taste of my tea. Of perfectly buttered toast.

Toys are strewn across the floor, evidence of child whirlwinds from earlier in the day. Evidence that we weathered the storm, once again. That the little hurricanes are in slumber, at least for now. 

I knit a bit, write a bit. 

My activity is like a silent protest against my exhaustion, against the monotony of routine. I will not let a quiet house go to waste tonight, dammit!

I knit a bit, write a bit.

My eyeballs are feeling the dry soreness of fatigue.

Oh well, it was only a small slice of the night. But it was mine.

Yarn nerd

Lately I’ve been struggling with a story I’m writing. So my brain said, “Let’s knit!”

I had an unbearable urge to visit a yarn shop. There’s something about browsing through all the colours and textures that really soothes my mind. So I went to Shall We Knit.

And I came across this beauty:


(We won’t look at the price tag!)


I am in love. Turquiose and orange and browns…who’d have thought?

I decided to “loom it” because I think it will look nicest as a chunky scarf, and plus I’m impatient to see the end result and looms are faster. For me, anyway.

I love baby alpaca yarn. It’s so soft and decadent and such a treat. Last year I loomed a scarf with baby alpaca yarn that has more Autumn-like colours:


So my mind is very happy, working away with this gorgeous yarn. I am so grateful to a dear, dear friend of mine for getting me hooked on knitting looms.

And before I sign off, here is the most awesome knitting bag in the world! Handmade by my former highschool biology teacher, with whom I am blessed to still be in touch. A perfect bag for a yarn nerd. 🙂

Tangles

I recently received feedback on a piece-in-progress and one suggestion was to introduce a character earlier.

Great idea! I thought. I can do that, no problem.

Ha.

I easily introduced the character earlier in the story, in terms of physically writing them into an earlier scene, but then my characters became speechless. It was as though the characters were just staring at each other, not knowing what to say to each other.

That is, there is so much they could say, each statement potentially taking the story in a different direction…What do I do?

I’m an amateur knitter, and the situation reminds me of the time I picked out some very pretty yarn from a yarn shop, brought it home, and it became all tangled to hell. I wanted so desperately to save it, but it was going to take a lot of patience (and probably a few snips with the scissors) to untangle the mess and make the ball salvageable. Because I so desperately wanted to make something of that lovely yarn.

In the end I did manage to untangle the yarn, but there were many moments where I wanted to tear out my hair and/or toss the whole mess into the trash.

I’m at a similar point now with my characters. I need to untangle them before I can make anything out of them (and make them talk to each other again). It’s going to take patience, it’s going to take work…because in my mind, the characters are too “pretty” to just throw away! Even though I know it’s always an option.

I know they will haunt me if I toss them…

Let the untangling and the snip-snipping begin.