Blue Eyes Alpaca

Alpacas come in all kinds of eye colors from black to light blue just like in humans. To say that all blued alpacas carry the deafness gene is purely silly. Some blue eyed whites have been found in a very few cases to be deaf. At one time people were fighting over blued white alpacas and paying top dollar for them. Why because they had the finest fiber. And that is true today but there is an unreasonable paranoia over any alpaca with the smallest bit of blue in it’s eye which I believe is harming the alpaca industry. To be an animal which carries the deafness gene there must be an absence of pigment which can be found anywhere on the body in the ear cannel or the toe nails or white patches on a dark alpaca but it is not the eye color that relates to the deafness gene. There just hasn’t been enough research into this topic to draw any educated deductions, certainly no one can quote facts with out a scientific foundation.

Below are some exerts on the deafness gene and eye color which I believe to be intelligent and thoughtful from highly respected experts in the alpaca world.

Eric Hoffman writes in his book The Complete Book of Alpacas about blue eyes;
On page 518 he writes:
” The impact of blue eyes in breeding decisions is somewhat different. Different philosophies are possible on this one. An extreme philosophy would be to cull all of them from breeding. The opposite extreme is to ignore them and mate alpacas while ignoring their eye color. A middle route would be to avoid the mating of blue-eyed animals to one another. This middle-of- the-road approach is likely to mitigate any sub optimal baggage that the trait might have, simply because the breeder is avoiding the mating together of extreme animals. ”

On page 515
‘Lack of complete pigmentation of eye. Many different genetic causes, some with other associated defects (deafness) but many without such association. Not always a defect.’

Quotes from Dr. Anderson.
We have found that the fact that they have blue eyes actually has little to do with deafnessother than the fact that it increases the likelihood that they are deaf if they have a white hair coat.

We have dispelled many myths:

1. blued eyed alpacas are always deaf – NOT true. We have tested many blue eyed but not white or only partially white animals that can hear.

2. Colored eyed alpacas can always hear. NOT true – we have tested some animals that are deaf but have colored eyes. Many have some flecks of blue or gray. Certainly most deaf animals have blue eyes, but some colored eyed animals are deaf.

3. If the skin is black they can hear no matter what the color of the eyes or hair. NOT true. Many of the deaf alpacas we have tested have black or darkly pigmented skin.

What we do know is that recessive color genes do seem linked to deafness – probably because the gene loci are close together on the DNA. Thus, if the color gene does not get turned on the hearing gene does not either. This is most closely tied to hair coat color, but is amplified when eye color is recessive too. Recessive colors are primarily grays with blue discoloration in eye. We have seen two gray studs where upwards of 20% of offspring have been deaf. This year we have 8 BEW females waiting to give birth. The first one born is white, has blue streaks in eye but dark pigmentation in over 50% of the eye, and is STONE COLD DEAF!.

At some point, someone needs to decide if deafness as a birth defect is actually worth researching and fund it! I do not care who researches it, but I do think that it needs to be done.

David E Anderson, DVM, MS, DACVS
Head and Associate Professor of Farm Animal Surgery
Director, International Camelid Initiative
Ohio State University

From a group e-mail at the Alpaca Chat Line.

The connection between blue eyes, white hair and deafness can be traced to the development of the neural crest in the embryo. The neural crest supplies cells, which develop into melanoblasts, which migrate ultimately to the base of the hair follicles as melanocytes, producing melanin, which lends color to the hair. If this migration is not complete, lack of pigment in all or some areas of the skin white or piebald) can occur. A similar lack of pigment in the eye can lead to blue-eyedness; a similar lack of nerve tissue supplied to the inner ear tissue or the degeneration of these tissues (in the cochlea and saccule) can lead to deafness, bilateral or unilateral, partial or total. All of these tissues are supplied by the neural crest, but some of these tissues are supplied by complex mechanisms in the embryo, so deafness, skin and eye color may be completely or partially lacking. This is the simplest explanation I can reconstruct, for those who are interested.

Dave Friedman