Long-tailed Chinchilla

The Long-tailed Chinchilla is a species of endangered rodents found in a very limited region in South America. Also known as Chilean, coastal, common chinchilla, or lesser chinchilla, it is one of the two members of the genus Chinchilla, with the other one being short-tailed chinchilla.

Scientific Classification

Chinchilla lanigera

Table Of Content

Scientific Classification

Chinchilla lanigera

Physical Description

Size: They can reach 10 to 14 inches in length with the tail being 5 to 6 inches (which is longer in comparison to the short-tailed chinchillas).

Weight: Their average mass is between 2 and 3 pounds.

Body Hair & Coat: They possess very soft, thick fur that can vary in colors like white, black, grey, beige or silver.

Head:  Small head with relatively large and round ears, rounded black eyes, and small nose (nostrils).

Long-tailed Chinchilla

Sexual Dimorphism: There are not many visual differences between the sexes, except that the females are slightly larger and heavier than the males.


The longevity of these rodents in the wild is around ten years; however, in captivity or under human care, a domesticated individual may live for up to 20 years.


The range of this species is currently restricted to the mountains of northern Chile.


They are found in the barren, arid areas, inside burrows and dens made in crevices, and in holes among the rocks.

Long-tailed Chinchilla Habitat
Long-tailed Chinchilla Image

Classification of Species

No subspecies of this rodent has yet been described.


Often mistaken for rabbits and guinea pigs, the long-tailed chinchillas are gregarious, social creatures that would live in independent colonies, the members of which can be as many as 100.

Interestingly, unlike most other animals in general, the female of the species is more dominant, as also, highly aggressive toward each other, and toward the males during estrus cycle/commencement of the mating season.

However, despite their aggressiveness, they would seldom engage in serious fights in the wild. When excited, they would express their anger or threats using various expressions, calls, and noises including chattering the teeth, growling, and even urinating.

They are mostly nocturnal animals with their peak activity hours being before dawn (which means, they are ‘crepuscular’). During the day, they normally take rest, usually staying hidden in the crevices and tiny holes in the rocks, amidst woods. However, they have also been observed on bright sunny days sitting close to their holes, climbing up the rocks, or jumping with playful agility.

Even domesticated long-tailed chinchillas are known to be very much social. They can easily be hand-tamed to interact or even play with their owners.

Sounds & Calls

These are very vocal animals and can emit sounds and calls including grunting, squealing, barking, and chirping for communication purposes.


Being primarily herbivores, or more specifically folivorous, the long-tailed chinchillas usually live on plant matters, feeding mostly on grass and seeds, as also, various types of vegetation, leaves, roots, lichen, and mosses.

However, opportunistically, they have also been seen eating insects and bird eggs, especially when there is a scarcity of plant matters they prefer. Pet chinchillas are often fed with corn, oats, alfalfa, hay, raisins, wheat, and even commercial food pellets.

Chinchilla Long Tail
Long-tailed Chinchilla Picture

Reproduction and Life Cycle

These chinchillas do not have a specific mating season and can mate throughout the year. However, most mating occur during the winter months. The females are usually monogamous and have the ability to bear two litters per year.

After mating, and a subsequent four-month gestation period, the female gives birth to the offspring, with each litter comprising of one to six baby long-tailed chinchillas.

However, on average, the number of young ones is usually two to three. They are well developed right from birth, and do not take long to grow up. The newborns get parental nursing and care until they are 6 to 8 weeks old. The young long-tailed chinchillas attain the age of sexual maturity at four months.


  1. The fur of the species is so dense that not a single parasite can survive in their fur, including fleas, and will die out of suffocation.
  2. While consuming food, the long-tailed chinchillas can sit erect, holding the food in its forepaws. This action helps them in keeping an eye on any approaching danger in the environment they live in.
  3. The mother chinchillas do not need to spend much time in parental care. The babies wean only after 6-8 weeks, thus saving time for the female to re-mate and beget the next litter quickly.
  4. Like most other rodents, their teeth keep growing continuously since regular chewing of coarse plant matters leads to wearing of teeth.
  5. One of the primary defense instruments of these small herbivores is their jumping skill. They are agile jumpers with the ability to jump up to 6 ft (1.8 m).
  6. They have another unique defense mechanism called ‘fur slip’. If caught by a predator, they have the ability to release a part of the fur to escape from the predator’s claws. The missing fur will very soon regrow and fill up the space.


In the wild, the predators of the long-tailed chinchilla include skunks, birds of prey, snakes, felines, and a few other canines.

Conservation Status

Considering their rapid decline in population, the IUCN 3.1 has declared them as ‘EN’ (Endangered).

Interesting Facts

  • They have the thickest fur of all land animals with about 50 hairs growing from a single hair follicle, and one sq cm of skin containing around 20,000 hairs.
  • These animals can sleep in an upright position.
  • Like rabbits, they ingest specific droppings so as to ensure they get the required amount of nutrition from their food.
  • These rodents originated from the Andean Mountains of South America.

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