The objectives were to describe in detail ovarian follicular growth characteristics and to establish the interval between successive large follicles in unmated alpacas. The ovarian follicular status of 16 non-pregnant, non-lactating mature alpacas was recorded using ultrasound every second day for between 46 and 100 days. An inverse relationship was observed between the diameter of the largest follicle and the total number of follicles indicating that follicular growth in alpacas occurs in waves. There were 15/38 (39%) inter-wave intervals of 12 days and 12/38 (32%) intervals of 16 days. The maximum follicular diameter in each follicular wave was 8.8+/-0.3 mm (n = 38). Inter-wave intervals of longer duration were associated with a larger maximum follicle diameter (P < 0.001). However, the growth rate of dominant follicles was consistent over the first 10 days after emergence. They reached a diameter capable of ovulation by this time, regardless of subsequent inter-wave interval. The latter observation suggested that the optimal time of mating might be predicted in alpacas, provided that the emergence of ovarian follicular waves was controlled. (C) 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.