The Chinchilla is in the Mammal family (Mammalia). They are Rodents (Rodentia), and their family is called the
Chinchillidae (Chinchillas and Visachas). The rodent family is
considered as the umbrella of the chinchilla. The Andes Mountains in South America is considered to be the origin
of chinchillas. The size of chinchillas closely resembles the size of rabbits, approximately 9 inches. Their
thick and soft coats of fur serve as one of their characteristic marks.
Scientific Names : Chinchilla langier (Long-tailed
brevicaudata (Short-tailed chinchilla)
About the size of a small rabbit
Height: 12 inches (30cm.)
Weight: 1.3-4 pounds (0.6 - 1.8 kg.)
Long-tailed chinchilla = 26 – 27 cm
long (body length)
Short-tailed chinchilla = 30 – 38 cm long
Long-tailed chinchilla tail length is
approximately 14.5 cm
Short-tailed chinchilla tail-length is
approximately 10 cm
The long-tailed chinchilla weighs
The female is generally larger than the male.
Up to 10-20 years - in captivity
10-15 years in the wild
The Chinchilla originated from South America. In the early 1900's the Chinchilla was almost extinct because they
were killed for their fur. It takes 80-100 chinchillas to make a single fur coat. In 1918 a gentleman by the name
of Mathias F. Chapman was working in Chile when he saw his first chinchilla.
He set out to save them from extinction. Chapman and 23 other men spent the next 3 years trying to trap the
Chinchillas. Because they were so few they were only able to capture 11. It took 12 months to bring these 11
Chinchillas down the mountain of Chile. They took every precaution necessary so they would not lose any to the
temperature changes they encountered on the way down. During the shipment to the US one chinchilla died and a new
one was born.
These eleven chinchillas were the beginning breeding stock for all of the chinchillas in the United States today.
By the middle of the 1960's, thousands of chins were being raised throughout the United States and Canada. The name
Chinchilla is Indian for "little chinta".
The original range of chinchillas
included the foothills of the Andes and adjacent mountains in Chile,
Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru with the Long-tailed chinchillas inhabiting the southern portion of the range.
Today, the short-tailed chinchilla is no longer found in the wild and the long-tailed chinchilla exists in the
wild only in two disjointed populations in Chile approximately 250 kilometers apart. They occupy burrows at the
base of Cardon plants or shelter in rock crevices.
The general coloration is bluish,
pearl or brownish gray.
Each hair usually has a black tip. Underside is a yellowish-white. Bushy tail covered with coarser hairs. Large
mouse-like ears, large black eyes, and a small squirrel-like body. Fur is extremely plush producing more than 50
hairs per follicle. (Humans produce only 1 hair per follicle.) Small bare palmed forefeet with 4 digits.
Elongated back feet are also bare soled with four weak claws and stiff bristles that may be used for grooming.
Cheek-teeth are ever growing and their incisors are coloured.
Mainly nocturnal or crepuscular,
but have been observed sitting in front of burrows on bright days. These
creatures are highly active and energetic during night-time because of their nocturnal nature.
Chinchillas sit erect to eat,
sunbathe and groom. Dust baths are frequently observed in their behaviour. They can climb and jump bi-pedally
with agility. Formerly found in colonies of hundreds of individuals. Very few current colonies have been
observed with over 50 individuals. Females can be very aggressive towards members of either sex, especially
within captivity. Serious fighting is rarely seen the wild; however, growling, chattering the teeth, and
urinating express aggression.
Wild: Feces content analyzed
in 2002 found that wild chinchillas are opportunistic generalized herbivores, which is probably an adaptation
to the harsh conditions and high variability in food availability in their arid habitat.
: Sexual maturity reached at
approximately 8 months. Breeding season lasts from May to November with a gestation of 111 days. Usually 2
litters a season, however, on average only 1 to 2 offspring are produced in a litter. Newborns weigh about 35
grams each and are fully furred, have their eyes open and are active. They nurse 6-8 weeks.
Chinchillas do not prey on other
species; they are herbivorous. Their main predators are foxes and
STATUS IN THE WILD
The short-tailed chinchilla
(C. brevicaudata) is thought to be extinct in the wild. Both the long-tailed
(C. lanigera) and the short-tailed species are listed as “endangered” in Chile and “threatened” by the
IUCN. Many are now being raised commercially on farms for the fur and pet trades. They are also used for medical
Both species of chinchilla were
considered extinct in the wild by 1953. However, the long-tailed chinchilla was “rediscovered” in 1975. Because
Chinchillas have one of the softest, longest, finest furs of any wild mammal, people have harvested these
rodents since ancient times. Inca noblemen used the fur to make coats and ate chinchilla