Chinchillas in the Wild – Interesting Facts about Chinchillas

Chinchillas are a popular exotic pet and are closely related to a guinea pig, with legs that resemble a rabbit. While it can be a pet, they have also been used in the fur industry for clothing. Currently, wild chinchillas are only found in Chile but they have also lived in Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.

Chinchillas

Chinchilla Description

There are two different species of chinchillas living today. The chinchilla chinchilla has a short tail and the chinchilla lanigera has a long tail. The one with a shorter tail also has shorter ears and a thicker neck. The chinchilla lanigera has a thinner body and has long ears and tail. Both species of chinchilla will have a thick and velvety fur coat. The coat has various colors, including white, black, and brown. The thick fur will help keep them warm at the higher elevations. These animals have bushy tails and black eyes. There are only four clawed toes on each foot.

Chinchilla chinchilla

Chinchilla chinchilla

Chinchilla lanigera

Chinchilla lanigera

Facts about Wild Chinchillas

The animal is named after the Chincha people of the Andes Mountains. These people once wore the animals’ fur as hats and coats. While chincillas are commonly known for soft fur, they are also some other unique traits. These animals are high jumpers and can jump to up six feet. They have multiple defense tactics to help them get away from prey. Some of these tactics include spraying urine and releasing tufts of fur. They will use their paws to eat. They hold the food with their front paws and will nibble on the food using their two prominent front teeth. They also bathe in dust to help their coats. By bathing in dust, it will help decrease the amount of dander and help prevent parasites and fungus.

Chinchilla Habitat

The animal is native to the Andes Mountains in South America. They favor higher elevations up to 14,000 feet above sea level. In their natural habitat, they like to live in burrows and rock crevices. While they are currently only found in Chile, they have also been found in Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina historically. Both species are native to the Andes Mountains, but today they can be found worldwide because they are a popular pet.

Chile

Chile, source: flickr.com, melenama

Chinchilla Diet

In the wild, chinchillas eat a diet of seeds, fruits, plant leaves, and small insects. While they do eat small insects, they are mostly herbivores. However, when they are domesticated, they will feed on commercial feed pellets.

Human Interaction

The only human interaction chinchillas had for many years was when they were being hunted. They were later bred in captivity because of their soft fur. There are many chinchillas that are still farm raised for their fur. The chinchilla is also used for health studies and research. Common health studies include blood bacteria, pneumonia, bacterial infection of the brain, and gastrointestinal disease. Since chinchillas are common hosts of the bacteria and it doesn’t cause any harm to them, then they can be studied to help humans create medicine to fight off some of these infections.

Behavior of Chinchillas

Chinchillas are social animals. In the wild, they will live in colonies of up to 100 chinchillas. These colonies are useful for social interaction, as well as protection. They will commonly live in burrows in order to huddle together to maintain warmth at the high elevations. Chinchillas are primary nocturnal animals and their activity will peak at dawn and dusk. During the day, they rest in the crevices in the rocks and will emerge at night to forage. They will make a variety of sounds, which include barks, squawks, and chirps. They will make these noises to express themselves. A calm loving chirp can be given to a potential mate, while a loud bark is when they are threatened. Predators of chinchillas can include skunks, felines, snakes, and birds of prey. Chinchillas are clean creatures. The female chinchilla is the dominant sex and they can be aggressive toward one another and toward males during estrus. Even though there is aggressiveness, fights rarely will happen. Chinchillas will express any threats through noises, as well as chattering their teeth and urinating.

chinchilla in wilderness

Conservation Status of Chinchillas

These animals are classified as a vulnerable species since populations have suffered due to the loss of their habitat. There are an estimated 10,000 left in the mountains. Due to this status, these animals are protected by law in their natural habitat. It is difficult to monitor hunting because of their habitat being in remote mountain ranges, so illegal hunting does occur. Conservation methods and human interaction are required to prevent extinction in the wild. Breeding in captivity is successful and many chinchillas are bred for pets.

Chinchilla Reproduction

A female chinchilla can breed at any time period during the year, although breeding season is during May and November. When she is pregnant, she will carry the young for about 111 days. This is the longest gestation period of all rodents. A chinchilla will give birth to one or two babies, which are called kits. The kits are born fully covered in fur and their eyes are open. The kits will suckle milk and will be weaned at six to eight weeks. The kits greet their parents with a high pitched chirp, which indicates they are hungry. The life span of a chinchilla is 10 years. However, some live longer and, in captivity with proper care, they can live until they are 20 years old.

Chinchilla with babies

Chinchilla with babies

Having a Chinchilla As a Pet

A chinchilla can be a popular pet to own, especially for a child. However, these are fragile creatures and should be owned by adults or children over the age of 10. Since they do have some common health problems, it’s important to take these things into consideration before welcoming them into the home. Some of these health problems include tooth overgrowth, dental disease, internal parasites, and gastrointestinal disease. There is still research being done to determine the best chinchilla care for pet ownership. Chinchillas are adaptable, but they do require a lot of care as pets. Chinchillas aren’t able to sweat, so the habitat must be kept between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s common to house the chinchilla in a roomy cage, as long as there are appropriate hiding places, water, and food dishes. There is also veterinary upkeep. Their teeth will continue to grow throughout their entire lives, so they require regular care. It’s also important to note that chinchillas will not bathe in water and will take baths in dust. They will roll in pumice dust a few times a week. If a chinchilla’s fur does get wet, it can lead to fungus and a skin infection. Even though chinchillas do roll in dust, they are hypoallergenic, which means many people will not be allergic to them.

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