From Academic Kids

Chinchillas and viscachas
Missing image

Scientific classification


Chinchillas and their relatives viscachas are small, nocturnal mammals native to the Andes mountains in South America and belonging to the family Chinchillidae.

Chinchilla fur is considered the softest in the world and is 30 times softer than human hair. Chinchillas must regularly bathe in dust or volcanic ash to remove oil and moisture that gathers in their thick fur. In fact, they have the highest fur density of any animal on earth with more than 20,000 hairs per square cm. Their fur is so dense that skin parasites (such as fleas) cannot live on one lest they suffocate. Whereas humans grow one hair from each follicle, a chinchilla has more than 50 hairs from a single follicle.

The international trade in chinchilla fur goes back to the 1500s. By the end of the 19th century, chinchillas had become quite rare. In 1923, Mathias F. Chapman brought the 11 wild chinchillas he had captured to the U.S. for breeding. Only three of these were female. Since the mid-1960s, chinchillas have become increasingly popular as house pets. This peculiar rodent is also studied by linguists due to its aural range of perception. It is considered the closest to that of a human's.

In their native habitat, chinchillas live in burrows or crevices in rocks. They are agile jumpers and can jump up to five feet above their head. Predators in the wild include hawks, skunks, felines, and canines. Their diet consists of plants, fruits, seeds, and small insects.

In nature, chinchillas are light gray, while other colors have been developed in captivity. For example, white, mosaic (white with gray or black patches), beige (very light gray), violet, and charcoal (black) colors have been seen. The gene for white is dominant, but lethal in the absence of a recessive gene of another colour. Red eyes are not only a sign of albinism but associated with beige colored-chinchillas.

In nature, chinchillas are monogamous and live in pairs. Unusually for mammals, chinchilla females are significantly bigger than males. Chinchillas can breed any time of the year. They have a very long gestation period for a rodent of 111 days. Due to this long pregnancy, chinchillas are born fully furred and open their eyes soon after birth. Litters range from 1 - 8 babies, although the average litter size is 2. In the case of a miscarriage, the foetus is frequently absorbed into the body of the mother, resulting in further sterility.

Chinchillas as Pets

Chinchillas are unique and charming pets. In captivity they live up to 20 years, but they usually do not live for more than 10 years in countries with a climate that they are not adapted to.

Chinchillas require regular dust baths. Specially processed sand made from pumice avoids the problems of fine dust. The fur of a chinchilla should never be allowed to get wet.

Chinchillas should be kept in a large cage, about 24" x 24" x 18" per animal. If there is any possibility of a pregnancy, a sufficiently fine mesh should be used as small chinchillas are good climbers and can easily squeeze through small holes. Cages should also avoid walking surfaces made of metal fencing as chinchillas can catch a limb under the metal.

Chinchillas enjoy ledges, boxes, sticks, and other perches, as well as exercise wheels, which however must be chosen with safety in mind. In particular, exercise wheels should be large enough, and if mesh is used, the mesh must be sufficiently fine to prevent limbs or digits from being caught.

Animals of the same sex live peacefully together in a single cage with sufficient space, and a male can usually be kept with one or more females. Male chinchillas will fight each other for a mate and therefore no more than one male should be kept with a female. If living space is too small, chinchillas will become extremely territorial.

Chinchillas have special dietary requirements, so it is usually easiest to feed them specially formulated chinchilla food. Rabbit food does not meet the nutritional needs of chinchillas and frequently makes them fat. It is preferable that they have a water bottle, as water in a dish or bowl will be quickly soiled.

Cedar bedding is toxic to chinchillas and should not be used. Pine shavings are acceptable. The bedding, food, and water, should be changed at least once a week and preferably every day.

A chinchilla can become unhealthy if it does not get exercise. An exercise time in a special "chinchilla-proofed" room is optimal, as a wheel or similar exercise device in the cage is not enough. They enjoy leaping from furniture and running around. They must be watched at all times, as they can escape from even a well-prepared room. If provided with nothing else, they will chew on wood, wire (electrical or otherwise), and anything else they can find. To prevent this, items such as paper towel tubes or wooden chew toys should be provided both during the exercise time and in the cage.

Prone to excited sounds, chinchillas will also emit chirps and calls according to their mood. Over time an owner will hear a multitude of these orations--all indicating the animal's personal state. A soft cooing might indicate playfulness and comfort. A very quiet chirping can be heard while the chinchilla is exploring a new place. Some sounds will originate from the grinding of teeth, which they will sometimes do after eating. They do sneeze, sometimes from the fine dust in their bath, which can be heard. If a chinchilla feels threatened, a high and loud bark will be heard, much like a squirrel can bark. A last resort will involve the chinchilla standing on hind legs and emitting both a bark and a stream of urine.

Some chinchillas are prone to cuts and scratches, especially on the nose. It is important that this be dealt with quickly to avoid infection. A first-aid topical antibiotic ointment is generally the best option, though if the problem area is on the nose it is crucial that it does not block the nostrils.


External Links

Pets on the Net (
California Chins (
Chinchilla Club (

There is also a type of cat coloring and several breeds of rabbit called Chinchilla, which are not related to the Chinchillidae family.


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools