Today I submitted my final paper for my Master’s degree, and in celebration I thought I’d blog about a rodent (I work with laboratory mice). Still, laboratory mice aren’t quite what one should write about in a blog about wild animals. So I chose to blog about one of my favourite rodents, the chinchilla. I remember begging my mom to get me a chinchilla when I was younger, because I thought they were the cutest thing ever. I still think they’re right up there on the cutest things ever list.

Chinchillas are South American rodents that live in the high Andes. They live at elevations of 3000-5000 meters, in arid areas without much vegetation. Previous chinchilla ranges encompassed Bolivia, Peru, and Chile, but today they can only be found in Peru and Chile. There are two remaining species of chinchilla, known as the long-tailed and short-tailed chinchilla. One species has a longer tail than the other, and someone obviously got very creative with their species naming.

A long-tailed chinchilla. Image By Jaime E. Jimenez, Laboratorio de Ecología, Universidad de Los Lagos. CHILE [1]. – Uploaded by Salix with consent of the author, by Attribution

Chinchillas are adorable little rodents, measuring from 22 to 38 cm in length. Females are bigger than males, with long-tailed chinchilla females weighing up to 800g, and the male weighing 500. Chinchillas have large eyes and ears, which add to their cuteness rating. They are built for jumping and can leap up to 1.8 meters in a single bound. Chinchilla fur is famous for its soft, velvety texture. The fur is extremely thick, with up to 60 hairs growing form one follicle.

Unlike many rodents, where males are more aggressive, female chinchillas are very aggressive, especially during estrus. Despite this, chinchillas are quite social, living in herds of more than 100 animals. They live in rock crevices or burrows, and are nocturnal with activity peaking at twilight and dawn.

Chinchillas can breed year round, with females having two litters per year. Gestation is unusually long for a rodent species, at 111 days. Because of this, kits are born fully furred and with eyes open, making them even more adorable than adults. The kits suckle for 6-8 weeks, and reach sexual maturity at 8 months of age.

A domestic chinchilla. It looks so soft! Image By Kjersti Holmang – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Due to their incredibly soft coat, chinchillas have long been hunted for their fur. One species of chinchilla was hunted to extinction, and both remaining species are critically endangered. It can take 150 chinchilla pelts to make one fur coat, which can be sold for $100,000. Chinchillas have been domesticated as pets and as farmed fur animals, which can hopefully take some of the pressure off their wild counterparts. Apparently they do make great pets though, so if you want one just make sure its from a domestic strain, not from the wild!

Cover Image By Guérin Nicolas (messages) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0