Far from the average pet, the domestic chinchilla is best known for its thick and luxurious fur, timid but playful nature, and affinity for dust baths.
But, as a relatively new introduction to the pet world, there is still plenty to learn about this crepuscular critter.
From their social and family habits to incredible variety in color, here are five chinchilla facts you probably never knew!
Chinchillas may not like excessive handling, but they can still be very affectionate with their owners and each other. In fact, the chinchilla is so caring that female chins have adopted orphaned or abandoned chinchilla kits and cared for them like their own.
The female chinchilla can have between one and three litters annually (with an average of two kits per litter.) Baby chins depend on their mom as their primary caregiver for six to eight weeks, but the dad also cares for the kits.
The baby chinchilla is born with eyes and ears open, but they still depend on their mother for warmth and nutrition. Without a mother or stand-in mother, a chinchilla kit’s chances of survival are slim, and it is likely that the adoptive mother chin knows that.
Chinchillas Can Live as Long As 20 Years
Small rodents tend to live between one and four years in the wild, but the chinchilla is an anomaly. Native to western South America, the chinchilla has a lifespan of eight to ten years in the wild if they are lucky enough to outrun their predators.
The chinchilla might have a long lifespan in the wild, but in captivity, the chin can live as long as fifteen to twenty years! Although the average captive chinchilla lives to age ten. Their long life in captivity results from a good diet, regular veterinary care, and a lack of predators.
A wild chinchilla has its lifespan primarily threatened by predators, but captive chinchillas face factors that limit their lifespan, too. Some of the most common reasons for an early passing in pet chins include overheating, stress, being the runt of the litter, choking, poor nutrition, and overgrown teeth.
Chinchillas Have the Densest Fur
For every square inch of fur, the chinchilla has 129,000 hairs, making it the densest of any land mammal fur. This incredibly thick fur is possible because the chin can grow over fifty hairs from a single hair follicle, whereas most mammals have just one.
The chinchilla’s fur is so thick that it is why chins do not take water baths – if they got wet, their fur would never dry! Fungus and bacteria can take hold in wet chinchilla fur, so this critter takes a dirt bath to absorb oils and remove loose debris from its coat.
Although it is a problem for bathing, the chinchilla’s thick coat has many benefits in the wild. Life in the Andes mountains can get chilly, and the chinchilla fur coat provides plenty of warmth. The density of chinchilla fur also helps protect it from predators. A unique chin defense mechanism allows them to release clumps of fur if captured by a predator, leaving a predator with just a mouth full of hair!
Chinchilla Hearing Is Similar to Ours
The chinchilla has sensitive hearing because of its oversized ears. Sensitive hearing is a lifesaving adaptation for this small critter because it allows it to hear predators approaching. Unfortunately, having such sensitive hearing also means that chins are easily startled.
While the chinchilla can hear sounds that fall just outside the human hearing range, their hearing range overlaps significantly with ours. This overlap results from the similarity between the size and structure of the chinchilla and the human ear, making the chinchilla the best animal model for studying human hearing.
Researchers have studied mice and chinchilla hearing to advance research into human hearing loss for decades. By mapping the chinchilla ear and visualizing sound frequencies, scientists believe they can one day create uniquely programmed hearing aids based on hearing profiles.
There Are 30 Chinchilla Coat Colors
In the wild, the chinchilla is elusive, and has a mottled gray coat that lets them camouflage themselves among their surroundings. Through selective captive breeding, however, humans have created thirty different chinchilla coat colors! Breeders have even altered the natural gray color of the chinchilla to be a bolder steel blue.
Each of the thirty colors of captive chinchillas results from a genetic mutation. Breeders select coat colors they like and crossbreed with alternate colors to create lighter or darker shades over time.
Although thirty chin coat colors exist, only eight are the most popular among chinchilla owners: ebony, standard gray, white, homozygous beige, heterozygous beige, violet, black velvet, and sapphire.