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Chinchilla facts for kids

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Chinchilla
Temporal range: Late Oligocene - Recent
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Scientific classification
Kingdom:
Phylum:
Class:
Order:
Family:
Chinchillidae

Bennett, 1833
Genus:
Chinchilla

Bennett, 1829
Species

Chinchilla lanigera
Chinchilla brevicaudata

Chinchillas are either of two species (Chinchilla chinchilla and Chinchilla lanigera) of crepuscular rodents of the parvorder Caviomorpha. They are slightly larger and more robust than ground squirrels, and are native to the Andes mountains in South America. They live in colonies called "herds" at high elevations of up to 4,270 m (14,000 ft). Historically, chinchillas lived in an area that included parts of Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and Chile, but today, colonies in the wild are known only in Chile. Along with their relatives, viscachas, they make up the family Chinchillidae. They are also related to the chinchilla rat.

The chinchilla has the densest fur of all mammals that live on land. In the water, the sea otter has a denser coat. The chinchilla is named after the Chincha people of the Andes, who once wore its dense, velvet-like fur. By the end of the 19th century, chinchillas had become quite rare after being hunted for their ultra-soft fur. Most chinchillas currently used by the fur industry for clothing and other accessories are farm-raised. Domestic chinchillas descended from C. lanigera are sometimes kept as pets, and may be considered a type of pocket pet.

Distribution and habitat

Habitat du Chinchilla lanigera - Auco
Chinchilla habitat in the Andes mountains of Chile

Formerly, chinchillas occupied the coastal regions, hills, and mountains of Chile, Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia. Overexploitation caused the downturn of these populations and, as early as 1914, one scientist claimed that the species was headed for extinction. Five years of fieldwork (published in 2007) in Jujuy Province, Argentina, failed to find a single specimen. Populations in Chile were thought extinct by 1953, but the animal was found to inhabit an area in the Antofagasta Region in the late 1900s and early 2000s. The animal may be extinct in Bolivia and Peru, though one specimen found (in a restaurant in Cerro de Pasco) may hail from a native population.

In their native habitats, chinchillas live in burrows or crevices in rocks. They are agile jumpers and can jump up to 1.8 m (6 ft).

In nature, chinchillas live in social groups that resemble colonies, but are properly called herds. Herd sizes can range from 14 members up to 100, this is both for social interaction as well as protection from predators. They can breed any time of the year. Their gestation period is 111 days, longer than most rodents. Due to this long pregnancy, chinchillas are born fully furred and with eyes open. Litters are usually small in number, predominantly two.

Diet

In the wild, chinchillas have been observed eating plant leaves, fruits, seeds, and small insects.

In captivity they eat food pellets, special hays, and some rare treats.

Predators

Predators in the wild include birds of prey, skunks, felines, snakes and canines. Chinchillas have a variety of defensive tactics, including spraying urine and releasing fur if bitten.

Conservation

Both species of chinchilla are currently listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to a severe population loss approximated at a 90% global population loss over the last 15 years. The severe population decline has been caused by chinchilla hunting by humans. Until 1996, they were listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. In 2006 they were listed as "Threatened", by 2008 as "Critically Endangered", and in 2016 they were reclassified as "Endangered" due to limited recovery in some areas.

Roles with humans

Chinchilla Ushuaia 2006
Chinchilla fur coat and accessories

Fur industry

The international trade in chinchilla fur goes back to the 16th century. Their fur is popular in the fur trade due to its extremely soft feel, which is caused by the sprouting of 60 hairs (on average) from each hair follicle. The color is usually very even, which makes it ideal for small garments or the lining of large garments, though some large garments can be made entirely from the fur. A single, full-length coat made from chinchilla fur may require as many as 150 pelts, as chinchillas are relatively small. Their use for fur led to the extinction of one species, and put serious pressure on the other two. Though it is illegal to hunt wild chinchillas, the wild animals are now on the verge of becoming extinct because of continued illegal hunting. Domesticated chinchillas are still bred for fur.

As pets

Chinchilla-Soelvmarmorert
Silver mosaic chinchilla

Chinchillas are popular pets, but require much care. They should only be purchased by experienced pet owners who are aware of their needs.

Chinchillas must have extensive exercise and dental care, due to their teeth continually growing all throughout their life span, and since they lack the ability to sweat, temperatures need to be carefully controlled.

Chinchillas cannot burp or regurgitate and need special care to make sure they do not get bloated.

They should be kept in an environment of 60 to 70 °F (16 to 21 °C). Always locate their cage in a well-lit area, but do not place the cage in direct sunlight or in drafts.

The animals instinctively clean their fur by taking dust baths, in which they roll around in special dust made of fine pumice, a few times a week; they do not bathe in water. If they get wet they should be dried off immediately or else their fur will grow fungus and they can possibly get a skin infection. Their thick fur resists parasites, such as fleas, and reduces loose dander.

Chinchilla species

Chinchilla - croquis comparatif
There are two species of chinchilla

There are two species of chinchilla, Chinchilla brevicaudata and chinchilla lanigera. The difference between the two species is small. Currently, Chinchilla brevicaudata seems to be facing extinction. Chinchilla lanigera can still be found in the wild, but has become rare. Domesticated chinchillas seem to come from the lanigera species.

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