Chinchilla Fact File
The chinchilla is a small member of the rodent family covered with grey fur. This fur is incredibly dense with up to 60 hairs growing from one follicle.
They are named for the long tail which is incredibly bushy and covered with thick fur. This can measure between 13 and 15.5cm (5-6in) long. The long tail helps with keeping them stable when moving.
On the broad head is a large pair of ears which has a black tip. This has less fur and when they are warm they will send extra blood to the ears to help cool them. Their large eyes are black with a split vertical pupil.
Their teeth grow throughout their life and are colored dark orange. These need to be worn down as if they become overgrown the long-tailed chinchilla will no longer be able to eat.
The feet have no fur on the foot pads which are used to help them climb. This is assisted by four maneuverable toes.
Females are typically larger than males. They measure between 22 and 23cm (8 and 9 in) long with an average weight of 400-500g (14-18oz).
Long tailed chinchillas are omnivores. Most of their diet is made up of seeds, nuts, leaves, grasses and other plant material. They will also feed on insects and eggs.
When eating they will sit upright and hold the food in their forefeet.
They engage in corprophagy which is the act of eating some of their own feces occasionally to keep the balance of ‘good bacteria’ in their system.
22-23cm (8-9 in)
Wild 10 years
Captive 20 years
— AD —
South America is the native home of the long tailed chinchilla. The entire population is found in Chile at the foothills of the Andes and other mountain ranges.
They make their home in mountainous habitats. Here they can be found in crevices, rocky outcrops, open fields and brushland.
Mating occurs in winter with the pups being born in spring.
After a 111 day gestation the female will give birth to between one and six young which are known as pups.
At birth the young are fully furred and can move within a few hours of birth. They will remain between their parents to keep warm.
Within a week they have their first try of solid food and by 7-8 weeks old they are weaned.
Sexual maturity is typically reached at 8 months old but may occur as early as 5.5 months old.
They may have up to two litters each year.
If a female is unable to raise a young another female may step in and adopt them.
Their mountainous habitat means they are adapted for cold temperatures and will easily overheat. To prevent this they will pump extra blood to the ears which is cooled by the breeze and then flows through the body.
They are primarily nocturnal emerging at night to feed.
To reinforce social bonds they will nibble one another. Mates chew on one anothers ears, eyes and under the chin.
Long tailed chinchillas will take dust baths to keep their fur in good condition. The dust attaches to the oil and dirt allowing it to be extracted.
Females are typically dominant within long-tailed chinchilla society. They will threaten other chinchillas through growling and chattering their teeth.
These animals are social and may live in colonies which include up to 100 members.
They make a wide range of vocalizations which vary be behavior.
Predators and Threats
When threatened by a predator they can release a clump of fur allowing them to escape the grip of the predator.
They face food competition from cattle and goats.
Humans impact their population through poaching both for the pet trade and for their fur.
Pet Chinchillas in the United States are almost all descended from 11 animals imported by an American mining engineer named Mathias F. Chapman. He brought them to the states in the 1920s.
There was previously three species of chinchilla but with the extinction of the king chinchilla only two remain. These are the long tailed and short tailed chinchillas.
They are named after the Chincha people of the Andes who wore the fur of these animals.
Long-tailed chinchillas are also known as the Chilean chinchilla.
A graphic showing a comparison between the short-tailed chinchilla (top) and the long-tailed chinchilla (bottom).
By Guérin Nicolas (messages) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4334334
Middle One and Two
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1635541
Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK
Ambrose, J., 2015. Wildlife Of The World. 1st ed. London: Dorling Kindersley, p.
Buffalo Zoo. 2020. Long-Tailed Chinchilla – Buffalo Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://buffalozoo.org/animal/long-tailed-chinchilla/> [Accessed 28 November 2020].
Roach, N. & Kennerley, R. 2016. Chinchilla lanigera (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T4652A117975205. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-2.RLTS.T4652A22190974.en. Downloaded on 27 November 2020.
Louisville Zoo. 2020. Chinchilla. [online] Available at: <https://louisvillezoo.org/animalsandplants/chinchilla/> [Accessed 28 November 2020].
Seneca Park Zoo. 2020. Chinchilla – Seneca Park Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://senecaparkzoo.org/animal-pages/chinchilla-2/> [Accessed 28 November 2020].
Dudleyzoo.org.uk. 2020. Chinchilla – Dudley Zoo And Castle. [online] Available at: <https://www.dudleyzoo.org.uk/animal/chinchilla/> [Accessed 28 November 2020].
Hendricks, C. 2002. "Chinchilla lanigera" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 27, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Chinchilla_lanigera/
Encyclopedia Britannica. 2020. Chinchilla | Rodent. [online] Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/animal/chinchilla> [Accessed 28 November 2020].
Smithsonian's National Zoo. 2020. Long-Tailed Chinchilla. [online] Available at: <https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/long-tailed-chinchilla> [Accessed 28 November 2020].
Animals.sandiegozoo.org. 2020. Chinchilla | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/chinchilla> [Accessed 28 November 2020].