Chinchilla Facts for Kids & Everyone Else

Listed below are some informative facts that can be used to enhance your knowledge about chinchillas or even help you in your decision to welcome one into the family.

Originally native to the Andes Mountains of South America, chinchillas are members of the rodent family that are found in the wild and often kept as pets as well. For a time, chinchillas were even nearly driven to extinction due to the demand for their extremely soft fur in the fur trade industry. Even today, the numbers of chinchilla in the wild are still critically low.

With their mild, friendly temperaments and preference for being social, these cute little animals make great pets for kids and adults alike.

General Facts about Chinchillas

Chinchillas are typically pretty small, normally weighing in at an average of 1 to 2 pounds. The average chinchilla size is about 9 to 15 inches in length, but their tails add on another 3 to 6 inches of their overall length size.

There are currently two different chinchilla species in existence. One named Chinchilla Chinchilla (yes, you say it twice!) which is typically found in the wild; this species has a shorter tail and ears and a thicker neck and shoulders. The other is named Chinchilla Lanigera; this species is the most commonly known and domesticated.

Chinchillas closely resemble other rodents like guinea pigs and porcupines; chinchillas share the same shortness of forelimbs and longer, thicker back limbs. Chinchillas have very dense, soft fur and long bushy tails. Their fur ranges in a variety of different colors such as gray, beige, tan, black or white. Chinchillas have large, rounded ears and eyes placed on either side of their heads.

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A chinchilla’s long tail. Photo credit: Guérin Nicolas

Even though chinchillas have large, round eyes, their eyesight is still very underdeveloped. Chinchillas use their long whiskers to “see” and feel things around them which allows them to navigate better.

The lifespan of a chinchilla is typically about ten years in the wild and 15 years when kept in captivity, but many chinchillas have been known to live for up to 20 years. The oldest on record lived 28 years and 94 days.

Where Do Chinchillas Live?

The natural habitat of chinchillas is located in the Southern part of South America; the Andes mountains to be exact. Wild chinchillas live in places that reach up to 9,800 to 16,400 feet in elevation. Due to the locations of their natural habitats they can withstand temperatures of up to 23 degrees Fahrenheit; they will, however, suffer from heatstroke and even death in temperatures that reach over 80 Fahrenheit.

Chinchillas in the Wild

As very social animals, chinchillas dislike living alone, thus preferring to live in large colonies of about 100. Wild chinchillas make their homes in small holes and rock crevices on the mountains in which they inhabit.

Chinchillas have many natural predators, including large birds, snakes, felines, skunks, and canines.

Due to their natural habitats being rocky, mountainous areas, chinchillas can jump from very high places; some even reaching about 6 feet. They use their tails to help them balance as they move about their rocky homes.

Because chinchillas are the natural prey of many other animals in the wild, over time they have developed a technique called “fur slip”; not to be confused with regular shedding. Whenever they feel threatened, chinchillas can shed large chunks of their fur, effectively leaving them able to escape their predators. Chinchillas have also been known to spray urine on their attackers as a defensive mechanism.

Chinchillas can also breed all-year-round, running from November to May in the Northern hemisphere and from November to May in the Southern Hemisphere. The gestation period for chinchilla offspring lasts 111 days, which is much longer most animals in the rodent family. Because of the length of the pregnancy, chinchillas are born fully covered in fur, with their eyes open. Most chinchilla litters only consist of 1 to 2 offspring.

Females are typically the more dominant gender, becoming aggressive towards other female chinchillas and often males as well during mating. Female chinchillas are monogamous; meaning they only have one mate throughout their entire lifespan, whereas male chinchillas have been known to have many mates.

Facts About Chinchilla Behavior

Why Do Chinchillas Bark?

Chinchillas communicate with each other using a plethora of different sounds to indicate many different emotions. They bark, chirp, grunt, and squeal.

Barking noises tend to indicate that a chinchilla is feeling threatened or afraid. Chinchillas also make barking noises to warn others of an impending predatory threat.

Heres an example of a chinchilla barking:

 

Their hearing range is very similar to that of a human, though their large ears are still a little more sensitive to loud noises than ours are, they do not hear as well as dogs or cats.

Chinchilla Eating Habits

Chinchillas are technically classified as omnivores as they sometimes (although rarely) eat insects and small bird eggs in the wild. Their usual diet is mainly herbivorous and consists of things like plants, leaves, seeds, and fruits. As pets, a chinchilla’s diet is best limited to good quality grass, hay, and chinchilla pellets.

Like hamsters, mice, and many other rodents chinchillas eat sitting on their haunches, holding their food between their front paws.

They also digest their food twice, after the initial pass through the digestive system, their food is excreted then re-ingested, and the normal digestive process is repeated once more.

Are Chinchillas Nocturnal?

Chinchillas are nocturnal creatures; they prefer to sleep and rest during the daytime and become much more active at night. Because of their preference for sleeping in small holes and crevices, chinchillas have become accustomed to sleeping upside down; they can also sleep on their sides or upright as well.

Do Chinchillas Shed?

Chinchillas have the softest fur of any other land mammal; their fur is very dense which repels many parasites. They grow 50 – 80 hairs out of each individual follicle, unlike humans who only grow 2 – 3.

About every three months or so chinchillas will slowly shed their fur the same way humans shed their hair. It is important to remember that though the amount may seem alarming, chinchillas do have more hair, and thus will lose more of it. The chinchilla shedding period can last, roughly, up to two weeks; after which the chinchillas will grow their hair back, starting at the head then moving back towards the rest of the body.

This type of shedding is different from “fur slip” which is a defensive mechanism.

Can Chinchillas Get Wet?

Chinchillas should not be put in water for any reason. Chinchilla fur is so extremely dense that it takes a very long time to dry it out after getting it wet.

Instead, chinchillas take “dust baths” to help rid their body of dirt and oils. “Dust baths” consist of the chinchilla playfully rolling around in a dry shampoo that effectively cleans them.

 

Here’s a a Chinchilla taking a sand (Dust) bath

 

Facts on Chinchilla Care

Due to they’re mild-mannered, social behavior, they make great pets for older kids and families to have. They are also relatively easy to maintain.

Making sure your chinchilla gets lots of exercises is very important. Chinchillas are very active and need lots of space to run around and play; it is not wise to keep them contained for long periods of time.

They also require lots of toys and objects to chew on to control the overgrowth of their teeth. Like rabbits, chinchillas have teeth that are constantly growing, and if they are not maintained, they can overgrow, making it generally painful for them and sometimes impossible to eat. Getting your chinchilla pumice stones, chew toys, and pieces of safe wood are ideal.

Because of their preference for being social, it may be wise to get two chinchillas instead of one. Chinchillas that live in solitary often become overly attached to their human owners and begin to need constant attention and often become very difficult to deal with.

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