Chinchilla lanigerachinchilla

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Geographic Range

Chinchilla lanigera is currently found only in the mountains of northern Chile (Nowak 1991).

Habitat

Chinchilla lanigera is found in the barren, arid areas of mountains at elevations of 3,000-5,000 meters. These animals den in crevices and holes among the rocks.

(Nowak 1991, Burton 1987)

Physical Description

Chinchilla lanigera has a head and body length of 225-380 mm, and a tail averaging 75-150 mm. The species is sexually dimorphic with the female weighing up to 800 g and the male only 500 g.

The fur of members of this species is extremely dense and soft. Each hair usually has a black tip, and as many as 60 hairs grow out of one follicle. The ventral side is usually bluish, pearl, or brownish gray, and the belly is yellowish-white. Its tail is furry with coarse hairs on the dorsal surface.

The head is broad and the external ears are large. Chinchillas have large, black eyes with a vertical split pupil, vestigial cheek pouches, and incisors with colored enamel. Both the forefoot and hindfoot have four digits with stiff bristles surrounding the weak claws.

(Nowak 1991, Grzimek 1975)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    0.5 to 0.8 kg
    1.10 to 1.76 lb
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    1.31 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

Female chinchillas are mostly monogamous. The breeding season occurs between November and May in the Northern Hemisphere and between May and November in the Southern Hemisphere. Females normally have two litters per year, with two to three young per litter.

Gestation of C. lanigera lasts for 111 days, and the young are precocial or well developed at birth. The newborn chinchillas weigh up to 35 g, are fully furred, and have their eyes open. Lactation lasts for 6-8 weeks and sexual maturity is attained after 8 months.

Life span in the wild of C. lanigera is roughly 10 years, but some domesticated chinchillas have lived for over 20 years.

(Nowak 1991, Grzimek 1975)

  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 6
  • Average number of offspring
    2
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    105 to 115 days
  • Average gestation period
    111 days
  • Average weaning age
    60 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    240 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    240 days
    AnAge

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

Female chinchillas are the dominant sex and are very aggresive toward one another and toward males during estrus. Despite this aggresiveness, serious fighting in the wild is rare. Chinchilla lanigera express threats through growling, chattering their teeth, and urinating.

Chinchillas are social animals and have been known to live in colonies of more than 100 individuals. They are primarily nocturnal animals with crepuscular activity peaks. However, C. lanigera has been observed on sunny days to be sitting in front of its hole and climbing and jumping on the rocks with amazing agility.

Domesticated chinchillas are very social and can be hand tamed to play and interact with their owner.

(Nowak 1991, Grzimek 1975, Burton 1987, Babinszki 1997)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Long-tailed chinchillas are primarily folivorous, feeding on many types of vegetation, but primarily on grass and seeds. They may also eat insects and bird eggs opportunistically. While eating, C. lanigera sits erect and holds the food in its forepaws.

Domesticated chinchillas are fed alfalfa, hay, wheat, corn, oats, and commercial food pellets.

(Nowak 1991, Grzimek 1975, Babinszki 1997)

  • Animal Foods
  • eggs
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Chinchillas have been hunted for human apparel since the early 1900s. Around 1900, an estimated 500,000 chinchilla skins were exported annually from Chile. Chinchilla pelt is considered by some to be the most valuable pelt in the world, and coats have sold as much as $100,000. International trade in wild chinchillas or their skins is now restricted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

(Nowak 1991, Jimenez 1995)

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Conservation Status

IUCN lists Chinchilla lanigera as vulnerable. Chinchillas are now protected by law in their natural habitat, yet hunting of this animal for its fur continues in remote areas, which makes enforcement hard. Populations of C. lanigera have also dwindled because of burning and harvesting of the algarobilla shrub in the lower altitudes. Fewer than 10,000 C. lanigera are thought to have survived in the wild, and attempts to reintroduce chinchillas into the wild have failed.

The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora lists all chinchilla species in Appendix 1, making international trade in the animals or their skins illegal among all the signer nations.

Today, many chinchillas are bred commercially.

(Nowak 1991, Jimenez 1995)

Other Comments

The long-tailed chinchilla has been harvested since pre-Columbian times by the Incas and Native Americans of Chile. Chinchilla lanigera was plentiful at this time, and one author reported that one could see an many as 1000 animals in one day.

Chinchillas were first bred in captivity at the end of the 19th century, but it was not until 1920 that commercial breeding began. Domesticated chinchillas have been described as smarter than the average rabbit and more fun than rats. They memorize trails and have good memories. Chinchillas are very shy animals and are very trusting of their owners.

Chinchilla lanigera is also referred to as Chilean chinchilla.

(Burton 1997, Grzimek 1975, Jimenez 1995, http://members.aol.com/chinmom/chinfaq.html)

Contributors

Colette Hendricks (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born

References

1997. http://members.aol.com/chinmom/chinfaq.html

Babinszki, A. 1997. http://www.babinszki.com/chins/background.htm

Burton, J. 1987. The Collins Guide to the Rare Mammals of the World. The Stephen Greene Press, Lexington, MA.

Grzimek, B. 1975. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New York.

Jimenez, J. 1995. The Extirpation and Current Status of Wild Chinchillas, Chinchilla lanigera and C. brevicaudata. Biological Conservation 77:1-6.

Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World, 5th Ed., Vol II. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.