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Smaller than a house cat, with large, dark eyes, velvety rounded ears, and plush, grayish fur, the chinchilla is perhaps one of the most enchanting rodents around! They are wildly social, living in family groups, which can form vast colonies, called herds, of over animals.
Unlike other rodent species, male chinchillas help raise the youngsters if needed. And if a female is unable to nurse her own kits, another female may come to rescue and feed her young. Both have suffered from excessive hunting and trapping, and both are currently listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN as Endangered, as their numbers continue to decline despite current protection measures. Living in the harsh Andes Mountains of South America, chinchillas have had millions of years of evolution to grow their dense, soft, lush fur, in response to the elements.
The ancient Incan Empire hunted chinchillas for their meat and fur, and kept them as pets. Chinchilla fur became popular in the s, and commercial hunting in northern Chile began in earnest in All chinchillas were hunted and trapped, but C. Fur traders even used dynamite to destroy their burrow systems, which also annihilated many of the animals. Channeling chinchillas. According to the Chinchilla Chronicles website yes, there is such a thing , an American mining engineer named Mathias F. Chapman fell in love with the rotund little rodents and received special permission from the Chilean government to import nearly a dozen chinchillas into the US in the s.
He was careful in the transport, taking over a year to slowly acclimate the animals to a lower altitude, and he brought along their natural food for the journey. Domestic chinchillas, which have been selectively bred for nearly years, are almost twice the size of wild chinchillas. Adult females are about 30 percent larger than males; the difference is a bit less pronounced in the wild. Fast and furry-ous. The chinchilla is related to guinea pigs and porcupines. With short front legs used to hold food as they sit upright , and long, muscular hind legs, chinchillas resemble small-eared rabbits or a mini kangaroo.
It can appear bluish or silver gray. These creatures are fleet of foot and can jump across a six-foot crevice. The chinchilla may appear bulky, but that thick, silky fur hides the physique of a remarkably athletic rodent! Large, black eyes survey the land, while its bushy tail twitches. Short forefeet have five digits, and narrow hindfeet have three digits and a rudimentary digit with stiff bristles surrounding a small, flat claw. Bristles may help provide traction on rocky terrain. Females are larger than males. With a dense fur coat and being unable to pant or sweat, chinchillas can easily overheat when kept in captivity.
Its only cooling mechanism is to pump blood through its large ears, which have less hair. A real hole in the wall. Living in the barren, arid, rugged areas of the Andes of northern Chile at unforgiving altitudes of 9, to over 16, feet 3, to 5, meters , chinchillas hole up in rock crevices or dig burrows at the base of rocks.
According to the IUCN: Typical habitat is rocky or sandy with sparse cover of thorny shrubs, few herbs and forbs, scattered cactuses, and patches of succulent bromeliads near the coast. Greens and seeds. Despite their harsh environment, the Chilean chinchilla Chinchilla lanigera is a selective folivore and granivore, choosing plants with high fiber and low lignin content. Their diet changes seasonally, with its most common food being the perennial Chilean needlegrass, but it consumes ferns, a succulent bromeliad, and cactus, which is likely its main source of water.
It eats sitting upright, holding food in its forefeet. Chinchillas are nocturnal or crepuscular. In the open—and their harsh habitat is mostly open—they sit upright while sunbathing in the morning, grooming, or eating. They must gnaw on things keep their ever-growing incisors in check.
They rarely squabble with neighbors. To maintain a healthy coat, chinchillas take dust baths regularly, leaving a whispered circle of light, fine pumice dust. Watch this! Living in large groups can help ward off danger, as there are more eyes on the lookout. Owls and hawks may take them from the air, while foxes, cougars, and even snakes may hunt them on the ground.
Of course, these defenses do little to protect them from their most formidable predator: humans. Chinchillas were hunted mercilessly for their pelts, and despite current protections, their numbers continue to decline. Chinchilla chatter. Like most social mammals, chinchillas have a significant vocal repertoire.
Ten different sounds, varying by behavioral context, are made while exploring, in response to predators, sexual encounters, and social behavior toward both friend and foe. Family ties. Both the long-tailed and short-tailed chinchilla species are highly social animals, living in large colonies of up to animals. Females are dominant and aggressive toward other females as well as the males during estrus, although serious fighting is rare in the wild.
After an estrous cycle of 38 days, females may have two or even three litters per year. The breeding season is November to May in the Northern Hemisphere. Young become sexually mature at around eight months of age. Unlike other rodent species, males stick around and may assist with parental duties like babysitting. Should a female be unable to nurse her offspring, another female may step up to feed the youngsters. However, laws were not seriously enforced until the establishment in of the Reserva Nacional Las Chinchillas in Auco, Chile.
The IUCN reports that populations inside the reserve are in decline, while those outside, in restored habitats, are increasing. Mining operations are a significant threat to this once widespread species.
In decline. The short-tailed chinchilla population has declined by about 90 percent in the past. Illegal hunting and trapping of them has declined somewhat through the establishment of captive rearing of these animals. Though they once populated the Andes of Bolivia, Peru, northwest Argentina, and Chile, they persist in only two known regions in Chile. Domestic chinchillas are not subject to international conservation regulations.
Sharing chinchilla information and providing up-close encounters with these endearing rodents will hopefully inspire people to help conserve them. Chinchillas are one of the longest-lived rodents, making it to a ripe old age of 20 in managed care. Its crazy-soft fur is dense, with 50 to 75 hairs springing from a single hair follicle.
In contrast, humans have only 2 to 3 hairs growing out of a single follicle. The lungs on a Chilean chinchilla are asymmetric, with three lobes on the left and four on the right side. Main menu. Search form Search.
Chinchilla lanigera, C. By the early s, chinchillas were a whisker away from becoming extinct. There are two long-tailed chinchillas at the Safari Park. Chinchillas like to chill!
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