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I would define chinchillas as a mix between a squirrel (for their beautiful and long tail), a kangaroo (they can jump 1 metre high) and a monkey (for the way they use their paws to eat).

Chinchillas and their Viscacha’s relatives are small, nocturnal mammals native to the Andes mountains in South America. Chinchilla actually belongs to the family of rodent, although some find this classification debatable. As you have probably read from other web site, a chinchilla has been defined as a furry animal with wiry tail. What make them extremely loveable are their big eyes, round ears, thick and silky fur, and not forgetting their persistent and undying curiosity. These qualities make them really cute and charming. However, because of their beautiful fur, chinchillas are also being breed by the fur industry. Sadly, one will need over a hundred chinchillas to make a fur coat for one person.

There are different types of chinchillas (among the chinchillidæ family):

It has straight, blunt nose with medium size ears and long tail. This specie is the most common type of chinchilla found in the domestic and pelt scenes;

From the higher region of the Andes, above 4.500 metres (15,000 feet). This large, well-furred chinchilla had the largest body, a blocky appearance, broad head, thick neck, blunt nose, small round blue ears and short tail. Purebreds had a brownish tinge and a wavy texture to their longer coat. Gestation period up to 128 days;

From the lower region of the Andes, closer to sea level. Purebreds had the longest ears and tails; they were smallest and slimmest in size than Lanigera, narrow with a pointed face with rat-like nose. Costina are the ones that are credited for contributing the rich blue fur colour to the modern mixed-breed domestic chinchilla. They had rather short fur, not too dense, but of good strength;



















Chinchilla lagidium lagostomus;




The chinchilla has a silvery grey pelt, with black tipped hair which is very soft. There are usually 60 hairs growing from every follicle. Chinchillas have big round ears, and eyes. They have narrow hind feet that have four digits with stiff bristles around the weaker claws. Their tails have long grey and black hairs on the dorsal or back surface. The chinchilla stands about an inch from the ground when on its four feet, and it is about half the size of a rabbit;


Their diet in the wild consists of plants, roots, and grasses;


The name “Chinchilla” comes from a South American Indian tribe and means Little Chinta;


In the wild, chinchillas can be found in the Andes mountain regions, but because they are an endangered species, they are not easily found;


Chinchillas in their native habitat live in burrows or crevices in rocks;


Early 20th Century for fur trade, later for pets;

Life expectancy

10 to 12 years (in the wild), but can live into their 20's. Rumour has it one chin lived over 30 years!


Can be as young as 10 weeks, but usually 6-10 months. This is important and means that kits must be weaned from their opposite sex parent/siblings by 10 weeks at the latest, likewise female kits should not be housed with opposite sex partners until they are mature enough to bear kits (usually from 8 months but depends on each chins weight/maturity);

Sexual maturity

8-12 months for both males and females;


Female chins will come into heat every 28-35 days;


In nature, chinchillas are monogamous;

Oestrus cycle

Usually 40 days with a range of 16 - 69 days;

Gestation Period

The gestation period is long for a small animal, up 111 days;


The foetus is frequently absorbed into the body of the mother, resulting in further sterility.

Litter size

1 to 8, 2 on average;

Litters per year

About twice;

Birth weight

35 grams or more;


Young are precocious and active. Due to the long pregnancy they are born fully furred and open their eyes soon after birth;


6-8 weeks; but can stay with mum until 10 weeks maximum a chinchilla rescuer has received chins that have conceived at the very young age of 10 weeks this is the equivalent to an 8 year old child conceiving! In the UK kits are not usually re-homed until they are at least 12 weeks old;

Adult Weight

600 grams. This is an average figure, weights can vary widely. Adult males weigh about 500 grams. The females are much larger, averaging between 600 and 800 grams;

Body temperature

35,5° - 37,8°C (96.8° -100.4°F)

Heart rate

100 beats/minute


They have between 80-100 hairs per follicle, making their coat too thick for fleas. Chinchilla fur is considered the softest in the world and is 30 times softer than human hair. In the wild, the colder the weather is at high altitudes, the denser the chinchilla's fur;


Intelligent, sensitive, very active, rarely bite but may aim urine (usually females) if they feel threatened. Need exercise and company, if they are kept singly then they need even more time/attention from their human;


Chinchilla's usually live in clans of about 100 individuals. There are no dominant males or females that lead the group;


Chins are naturally sociable, however in their artificial captive environment care must be taken with their introduction;

Special needs

They do not bathe in water, but dust instead. They will flip, roll, dig and play merrily in their quest to be clean. A water bath however should only be given in emergency and the chin must be thoroughly dried;

Environment temperature

They prefer temperatures under 24°C (75°F) and will easily overheat in warmer climates;


Chinchillas are nocturnal, meaning they sleep during the day and come out to play at night. If you offer your chin treats during the daytime it will learn to wake up and look for them when anyone enters their room. A chinchilla will generally learn to ignore daytime noises/movement if you ignore their pleading looks, far better for your chins to get a good day sleep;


Their teeth grow continuously throughout their lifetime so it's important that they have wood and other materials to wear them down on;

Natural predators

Predators in the wild include hawks, eagles, skunks, felines, and canines. Their biggest threats are still the owl and the fox;

Other predators

Chinchillas’ chief predator is anyway man. Since chinchilla’s fur makes soft and beautiful coats, millions of chinchillas were killed for their pelts until they became nearly extinct in the 1940's. To make one chinchilla coat you need 120 to 150 pelts. They are now on the endangered species list, and are protected by law. People have tried to breed chinchillas in captivity, but reintroduction into the wild has not been successful;


Chinchillas will do what's called a fur slip and release a patch of fur if they are frightened. It is designed to help them escape the grasp of a predator. It will grow back and does not harm the chinchilla;


The chinchilla's ability to jump, cling, and climb over rocks, protects it from predators and helps it to survive in the wild. They can jump up onto things of a height of even 1 metre.

Natural contribution

Chinchillas help the environment by distributing and misplacing seeds;


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© Stephen G. 2001 / Blue planet biomes

© The chinchilla information guide