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.
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
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
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
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 both sides of their upper lip. These whiskers help them navigate even in the dark.
The sensory organs of thesesmall animals are highly developed in order to help them sense of any approaching enemy.
The feet of these animals are adapted for movement on rocks, especially the weak hind claws and pads on the feet prevent them from slipping.
Their eyes are large and have vertically slit pupils so as to allow them to have a wider and clearer vision even in less light.
Much like rabbits, their short front legs and strongly-built, long hind legs aid them in climbing and jumping easily.
The external and the middle ears of these animals are also large, a characteristic feature that helps them hear very faint sounds at ease.
The body hair of these animals is attached in such a way that they may easily escape from predators, leaving the latter with a mouthful of hair.
The fur of the short-tailed chinchilla is so dense that no parasite, including flea, can survive inside its 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
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.