The Short-tailed Chinchilla is a species of small rodents native to a very limited range in South America. The present population of these animals in the wild is yet unknown. Unfortunately, the very existence of this endangered species is at stake, and still under continuous threat, since many of them are still bred in captivity for their very fine and highly dense fur, which is in high demand in the world fur industry. Also called the Bolivian chinchilla, Peruvian chinchilla, or royal chinchilla, it is one of the two species in the genus Chinchilla, with the other one being long-tailed chinchilla.
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Short-tailed Chinchilla Scientific Classification
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Size: The total length of a healthy adult is 28 to 49 cm.
Weight: They can weigh around 38 to 50 ounces.
Fur/Coat: The entire body is covered with very fine and extremely dense hair.
Feet: The front legs are short while the hind legs are long and powerful.
Tail: The length of their tail can be up to 100 mm (3.9 in).
Sexual Dimorphism: Both the sexes look alike.
Long-tailed Vs. Short-tailed Chinchillas
The differences between the two species can be understood upon close observation. The short-tailed chinchillas have thicker necks and wider shoulders, along with a much shorter tail (up to 100 mm; from which they get their name) compared to their long-tailed counterparts (up to 130 mm).
The longevity of this chinchilla species is 8-10 years in the wild, whereas, in captivity, they have been seen living almost double, i.e., 15-20 years.
Distribution and Habitat
The short-tailed chinchillas live among the rocks in holes and crevices. Their range extends through the relatively barren areas of the Andes Mountains at an elevation of 3,000-5,000 m above sea level.
Classification of Species
No subspecies of this rodent has yet been classified by the biologists.
Very little is known about the behavior of these small, shy creatures in the wild. Basically, they are extremely intelligent animals, but are timid in nature, and hence, stay hidden almost all day, being most active at night, as also in the dawn and dusk. When food is abundant, they have been noticed to have the habit of overeating.
They are thought to be living in colonies ranging in size from only a few heads to more than a hundred and have been seen taking dust baths. They have the ability to determine whether rock crevices are wide enough for them to pass through or shelter in.
These animals may make many sounds and vocalizations. They emit a long warning call that sounds like a whistle from a short distance. This allows the other members of the group to be alarmed about some impending danger.
While mating, as well as hiss and spit, they give out a low cooing noise. When they feel threatened, or are about to threat or warn others, they would growl, chatter their teeth, and even urinate. The pet specimens have been seen developing the habit of nipping, if handled inappropriately.
This animal is primarily a herbivore, or more specifically, folivore – feeding mostly on the foliage or leaves. It would also consume other plant matters including seeds, grains, nuts, and flowers. However, chinchillas may occasionally eat insects too.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Interestingly, the female short-tailed chinchillas are said to dominate males. Sources informed that the chinchillas are monogamous, though there is not enough substantial evidence in support of these information.
The mating of these rodents occurs biannually (twice a year). Females of the species have been observed to come into estrus cycle every four weeks. It is during this time that their vagina opens, which is otherwise tight.
The litter size of these creatures is fairly small. After a gestation period of about 128 days, the female gives birth to 1-2 baby chinchillas in an average. They can have up to two litters per year. However, three litters in a year have also been recorded, though rare.
They are known to be ‘compassionate’ animals. If a mother chinchilla fails to produce milk, another lactating female have been seen breastfeeding the babies.
Even the father chinchillas, unlike many other rodent species, do not harm or kill the baby chinchillas, but rather would often take care of its babies when the mother is out for foraging.
The weaning period of the young chinchillas is 42 to 56 days. The juveniles attain the age of sexual maturity at an average age of 8 months. However, in captivity or as a pet, they have been noted to attain sexual maturity in as early as 5.5 months.
- Compared to their size, the vibrissae of these rodents are exceptionally long, of about 110 mm,
on bothsides of their upper lip. These whiskers help them navigate even in thedark.
- The sensory organs
of thesesmall animals are highly developed inorder to help them senseof any approaching enemy.
- The feet of these
animals areadapted for movement on rocks, especially the weak hind claws and pads onthe feet prevent them from slipping.
- Their eyes are large
and havevertically slit pupils so as to allowthem to have a wider and clearervision even in less light.
- Much like rabbits, their short front legs and strongly-built,
long hind legs aid them in climbing
- The external and the
middle earsof these animals are also large, a characteristic feature that helps them hear very faint sounds at ease.
- The body hair of
these animalsis attached in such a way thatthey may easily escape from predators, leaving the latter with a mouthful of hair.
- The fur of the
short-tailed chinchillais so dense that no parasite, including flea, can survive insideits fur, and will die of suffocation. It also helps them handle the cold temperatures of the South American Andes Mountains, where they belong.
The primary enemies of this species are foxes, snakes, wild cats, and some birds of prey, including the owls.
Population & Conservation Status
The IUCN 3.1 has enlisted these rare wild creatures as ‘EN’ (Endangered). Every year, since 1829, hunting of these small rodents is increasing for their fur and skins, since the demand for these creatures is rising by around half a million skins per year in the US and Europe.
- In the dry habitats, short-tailed chinchillas depend on morning dew, as well as flesh and fruit of cacti for water.
- Quite much like the growth of hair, they grow their teeth for life.
- They have the softest fur of all animals on earth.
- At present, they are found in almost 30 different chinchilla colors, out of which the most common ones are white, black, gray, ebony, beige, violet, sapphire, and velvet.